Times To Rethink Teamwork
Teamwork has become political correctness in the workplace. Requirements like “be a good team player” can be found in almost all job descriptions. While teamwork presents a number of advantages, the drawbacks should also be recognized in order to maximize the benefits.
It is probably time for you to rethink teamwork if you are experiencing the following scenarios.
Rethink if innovation is missing.
If you have read The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, you would know how the author argues that group thinking leads to mediocre decisions, as it does not necessarily promote individual expertise, but celebrates popularity. Unfortunately, the most innovative and forward-thinking ideas are not usually popular, while the safer and more obvious ones often get picked.
It is human nature to avoid changes and challenges despite that many could lead to long-term gains. I guess most of us, including myself sometimes, are just too lazy or scared to see past the short-term barriers or embrace the chaos in the change process. Therefore, instead of counting on the group to make the shift, it is more important and realistic to let a change agent steer the ship.
Rethink if you feel slowed down.
One of the main benefits of teamwork is that individuals could focus on what they excel at and contribute their best work, which allows the team to achieve higher efficiency than individuals. However, in reality, the interdependency among team members could hurt productivity in general, due to the barrel effect. If one or a few team members are not performing as expected, the rest of the team would all suffer the loss of efficiency.
If you feel slowed down in a team, it might be time to review the process and identify the weak chain. It could be a mismatch of talent and tasks, or inadequate process design that causes a bottle-neck effect. By addressing issues and making accommodations for individuals, the team will be better prepared to unleash its full potential.
Rethink if you spend too much time emailing about tasks rather than actually finishing them.
Communication is the key to teamwork. According to PMI, 90% of a project manager’s job is communication, as she needs to pull the team together and coordinate tasks across functions. Although transparency is generally appreciated, I am sure we all know how it feels to be copied on a long email conversation where multiple people respond back and force to negotiate specific details that do not relate much to our tasks. Instead of clarity, it probably brings more confusion and anxiety over the email notification sound. Buried under tons of emails like that, we are more likely to miss the ones that actually need our attention.
I was, and still is, sometimes, the annoying PM who copies everyone on emails, since people want to feel “included and informed”. After trying a few different tools, I become a fan of instant team message apps, such as Slack or MS Teams. These apps allow all members to read and respond to threads, tag individuals, and set notifications for different kinds of postings. Compared to traditional emails, these apps make conversations much easier to retrieve and follow, and give individuals the freedom to allocate their time and attention.
It is not easy to change everyone’s habit and make the switch for the whole team. But if you are tired of the long email conversations bombarding your inbox every day, the other team members may feel the same way. Therefore, it could be your opportunity to assume a leadership role and facilitate this change, starting with baby steps, such as using it on one small project. Try discussing the details in an instant message app, and then sending out a confirmation email to communicate to the large group about the summary and decisions. You know that people would appreciate the clarity.
Rethink if you don’t feel happy and inspired.
This is unfortunate, but it happens. Individuals have different goals and preferences, so that it is unrealistic to expect people to be one-size-fits-all in teams. One may feel unsatisfied and unmotivated in a team for many reasons.
It could be cultural, where a tech-enthusiastic may feel hands-tight in a team that appreciates old-school tools, or an introvert might feel stressed when all the team members are expected to show up in the weekly happy hour. While either culture is better or worse, the alignment of the group and personal preferences contributes significantly to job satisfaction and the general mental health of the team members.
The balance of individual and organizational goals matters too. When you feel that the tasks and training opportunities do not support professional growth in the direction you aim at, it is probably time to re-exam your role on the team and determine the next step.
There is only so much we could do about our team experience as individuals. After exhausting the effort to adapt and change, leaving can be a hard but inevitable option. After all, it is ourselves that we are ultimately responsible for.