[News] Teamwork is not all it’s cracked up to be

If I am obliged to sit through another session with a facile facilitator spouting clichés and lazy metaphors in the name of ‘teamwork’, I may be tempted to lobby for 365 days of holidays per year.

There is no “I” in team, you’ll no doubt have heard – a statement issued with a rather self-satisfied expression last seen on a toddler during potty training. Well, I do not need a thesaurus to come up with a plethora of nouns to describe the “trainer” that also get by without an “I”. Perhaps you and I need a training course on that!

Employers have to enable collaboration to take place at work.

Like so many other metaphors in modern work, it derives from a lazy appropriation from sport. It’s as though those who presume to have special powers, or merely the power to tell us how to behave at work, have imaginations than extend no further than what they watched on the Telly over the weekend, or worse, their hobbies.

As much as it pains me as an Englishman abroad to raise the 1948 Invincibles, you do not need to be a cricket tragic to appreciate that magnificent team comprised a bunch of individuals. Don Bradman and Keith Miller were not exactly bosom buddies, to put it mildly. I never saw the Invincibles, but I did have to sit through Steve Waugh’s team that was arguably their equal. Again, it doesn’t take too much research to discover that team had some pretty strong players and personalities, including Waugh and the late, great Shane Warne.

Great teams very frequently (but not always) have more than a sprinkling of “Is”. What makes an I? Lots of different qualities. The greater the talent or record of achievement, the more likely the I is given a run. An I may push back against groupthink or call it like it is when the leader is acting like an Emperor detached from their attire. In fact, when it comes to great teams, the ayes have it, and I am not talking about “yes (wo)men”.

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A lot of corporate training is now an incoherent mess because it is too frequently based on lazy metaphors, or is developed reactively to remedy perceived deficits. Or worse, God help us, it is the outward manifestation of management jumping at the shadows of hypothetical risks. The number of hours devoted to this stuff, which could have gone into developing staff rather than manipulating them and blinding them with pseudo-science, is a scandal.

Is there a fundamental fault line running through careers and work? So much of careers work has been devoted to encouraging people to self-express through their work – to find their passion (pass the vomit bucket from the left-hand side), or to do something that reflects their personalities and values. Then, when they get to work, they are told to subsume their identities into a soup of compromised mediocrity that is the paper clip team, or the Monday to Fri-Yay team.

Maybe I is just for the weekends, when we play or watch sport. Hey, I have a great idea for work, let’s make it a contact sport.

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Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to opinion@jimbright.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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