A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
February 1st, 2013 by William

There Is No ‘I’ in Team

Cindy Perman’s Jan 23, 2013 CNBC.com article, “There Is No ‘I’ in Team” is very interesting and an enlightening read. The quip “there is no ‘I’ in team” has floated around the halls of business for as long as I can remember. I must confess I’ve even stooped so low as to use it myself on occasion. And as Cindy says in the article, “Man, if we had a nickel for every time we said “there is no ‘I’ in team,” we’d be rich!”

What I found most interesting in the article were some interesting statistics on how the typical worker feels about teamwork and the link between teamwork and organizational dysfunctionality. The statistics noted in the article come from a recent survey by the University of Phoenix. The article tells us, “A whopping 95 percent of people who have worked on a team say teams play an important role at work. But, when pressed, just 24 percent said they would like to be part of a team. Thirty-six percent of young people (ages 18 to 24) said they, too, recognize the importance of teamwork but would prefer to work alone all the time.”

The article goes on to tell us something I’ve known for a long time; “the biggest problem [deterrent to teamwork], it turns out, is–everyone act surprised–dysfunction. Nearly seven in 10 people (68 percent) surveyed said they had been part of a dysfunctional unit.”

When survey responders were asked about their exposure to workplace dysfunction, the article tells us, “Forty percent said they had witnessed a verbal confrontation and 15 percent said they had seen a confrontation turn physical. Forty percent said they’d seen a team member blame another team member, and 32 percent said they’d seen a team member start a rumor about another person.”

It’s no wonder that teamwork is so elusive in many organizations and why people shy away from getting involved in one if they can avoid it. In my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw I detail many different aspects of what makes a workplace dysfunctional–lack of teamwork is but one.  In past blog articles I’ve talked about many behaviors that lead to a dysfunctional workplace, but this week I want to concentrate just on those that are most counter to teamwork. To start–what is true teamwork? Too often teamwork is envisioned as some small close-knit group assembled to solve some specific task or problem−e.g. a Skunk Works™ type environment.

However, that’s not really the kind of teamwork that I think is most important. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important but not as important as the “global” teamwork that organizations really need to survive and be competitive. It’s the “all are one” team rallying behind the organization’s vision statement–everyone in the organization pulling in the same direction toward an accepted organizational goal (vision). Anyone can convene a small team to solve a particular problem, but getting everyone in the organization singing from the same hymnal is tough.

The reality is that few organizations experience that type of “global’ organizational commitment and buy-in. And, when it comes to the teams we typically think of–ones that are needed for the organization to effectively function–teamwork usually means that commitment to the team has been gained only because it allows people to blame someone else when things go wrong. This is not the brand of teamwork that will set aside an organization as world-class. Unfortunately, in today’s workplace, “team” usually means “together, everyone annoys me.”

The problem with establishing teamwork is that many of the factors that inhibit teamwork (and create dysfunction) are innate human characteristics–making them hard to overcome. Let’s face it–people are naturally averse to working in teams. In his July 2010 article, “Teamwork in the Workplace,” Dr. Dale Roach provides an interesting view of the typical types of teamwork-averse people:

  • The Super Ego Factor: This super-human doesn’t need the help of anyone else to accomplish the task or at least this is what he or she thinks. If you’re super-human, teamwork makes no sense to you.
  • The Isolationist Factor: This is the Lone Ranger of the work place. He does his own thing without asking the advice or input of anyone else. Teamwork makes no sense to this person.
  • I’m Smarter than You Factor: These people are the Einsteins of the group. They’re so smart that simple communication with anyone on the team is an absolute waste of their time and energy. They seek out the highly intellectuals, and anything or anyone not in that camp is a second-class citizen.
  • The Moody Factor: This is the Incredible Hulk. You just don’t know what his temperament will be.
  • That Was My Idea Factor: This is the Spoiled Brat team member. Everything has got to go his or her way. These types of people have such a severe case of being introverted that they simply can’t see beyond themselves. Their lack of teamwork is so severe it is difficult to get these people to see the big picture.

When these type personalities are forced into the team environment it’s no wonder it usually doesn’t work. As Dwight Schrute noted in the TV show The Office, “These are no more a team than people staying at the same hotel are a team.”

Luckily the above type people are usually a minority in an organization. Ironically, for the rest, most are adverse to the team environment for exactly the same reason that some people are for them–blame. You have more control over “not” being blamed when you work independently.

So how does an organization overcome these natural human tendencies? I believe there are only two fundamental conditions that need to be in place for teamwork to flourish. The first is establishing a culture of mutual respect and trust. Most of the above mind-sets can be tempered if everyone respects and trusts each other. Specifically, they respect each other’s opinions and they trust that everyone in the team/organization is pulling in the same direction–they have a common vision or goal. Establishing this culture of respect and trust is management’s responsibility–not the employees.

Second, an organization that’s blame-oriented is not the perfect nursing ground for “constructive” teamwork to take hold. In this environment teams exist for just the reason I mentioned above–they provide people who can be blamed when something goes wrong (The Selfish Herd Theory). People will naturally open up and be more collaborative if they know that they won’t be blamed for whatever might go wrong. Again, this behavior starts with management–only if they stop the blame game will teamwork have a chance to take hold.

The bottom line is–management sets the tone for how the members of an organization behave. Dysfunctional management = dysfunctional workplace = no hope for teamwork. So the next time your management team feels the need to preach to the employees for more teamwork throughout the organization it’s because they haven’t done enough self-evaluation regarding their own behavior for teamwork to take hold. Remember, the neck of every bottle is at the top.


One Response to “There Is No ‘I’ in Team”
  1. Anonymous says

    JUST AWESOME!!!!!!Gr888 Job…

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