Teamwork is one of the latest trends catching the attention of both the corporate and the academic world. While those final exams which used to account for 90 or 100% of the final grade seem to be sentenced, many universities, probably led by business schools, are increasingly introducing teamwork projects to bring the student’s assessment closer to the real labour market needs. Indeed, recruitment processes do not only assess the technical background of candidates anymore but also evaluate the so-called “soft skills” such as teamwork, empathy or pressure management.
Teamwork benefits are indisputable: higher quality of the outcome, more creative solutions, more scenarios and risks taken into account, higher commitment as well as higher motivation due to the sense of community.
However, looking back at my background as student and intern, I have come up with the impression that despite all these efforts in enhancing teamwork in schools and workplaces, we still talk much more about teamwork than we put it in practise. One might think of the opposite of teamwork as being individual work but it is not. After some years, I have realised that the opposite of teamwork is group work, understood as an aggregation of individuals. While individual work is appropriate for those situations where work needs to be done quickly, teamwork, as the Arab saying states, is suitable to go further. So… what is group work for? It is actually a combination of both that does not drive anywhere. Let’s examine why.
To start with, let’s clarify the difference between team and group. While a team is a single unit formed by members that reject their own self-interest for the benefit of The Team, a group is an aggregation of individuals who just want to have their part done, without regard to any shared goals and common mission. As each individual only cares about his or her own interest, the main difference teams and groups is the creation of synergies. While teamwork outcome is worth more than the sum of the components, when it is about group work the outcome become poorer than the sum of the components because neither the benefits of individual work nor teamwork take place. Since there are not shared goals but self-driven individuals, each one will try to get rid of as much work as possible instead of delivering one’s best to the (nonexistent) shared project. In addition, maybe without bad faith, some members will lean too much on the brightest group mates, thus creating a bad atmosphere and latent conflicts confronting people instead of ideas.
So… If teamwork is so advantageous and group work so bad, why so many people still work in groups instead of teams? I identify 2 complementary answers.
- As teamwork usually requires an extra-effort in terms of coordination, negotiation and empathy, many people just choose the easiest and shortest track: forming groups. Nonetheless, I have to recognise that I am pleasingly surprised to see how local students –at least those few I have worked with- are so good at teamwork, unlike the usual way of working in Europe, more individualistic and getting-things-done based, despite playing against teamwork philosophy.
- In the corporate world, group work can be the result –and the responsibility- of a bad management. Let me give an example. When Pep Guardiola, former coach of FC Barcelona, arrived at Barça, the first decision he made was sacking a clique of players who were the most selfish and party-goers of the team. These players were Eto’o, who was considered the best center-forward of the world, Ronaldinho, former Ballon d’Or; and Deco, one of the best midfielders of that moment. By doing so, Guardiola was refusing to have the best players of the world in order to have the best team of the world. While Real Madrid was investing hundreds of millions of euros in signing up top stars, Barça was playing with up to 8 players raised at La Masia, the Barça reserve of young players. Two years later, Barça became the second team ever to win all of its tournaments in one year (6 in total), while Madrid has been crossing the dessert for years.