Future Shoes: "But I'm Not on a Team"
The biggest objection I get when I try to interest people in my book The New Why Teams Donít Work is, "But I'm not on a work team." (Meaning, not part of a classic "self-directed work team." Only about a fifth of working adults are.)
The second objection I hear is, "Teams are a fad of the 1990s. Management doesnít push 'em any more." (True, in the classic sense. Consultants, who truly are fad-driven, arenít pushing teams products as much -- perhaps because theyíre so messy?)
The third objection: "Technology means I seldom have meetings any more." (And hence, am not on a team.)
All three objections really make the same point: Teams donít apply to me.
And all three are wrong. Unless you dwell in a yurt in the Gobi wasteland without a wireless palm computer, you must constantly be dealing with other people, if only for the moment it takes to consult on the phone or in the hall or by email.
Every time you talk to someone about something that needs to be done, you create an ad hoc team, thrown together for a single moment. It doesn't matter if it's at work, at a school meeting, in a class you are taking, or showing your kid how to swing a bat. You are teaming.
The president sitting down with his cabinet to go over the monthly agenda is a team. So is a bum asking you for a cig. Everything involving a task and more than one person is a "meeting," and if it fails in any way, the fault is part yours.
And in each instance, all the goblins that want to undermine effective teamwork are present and at play:
∑ Personality differences. Philosophical differences. Cultural differences.
∑ Unclear roles. Unclear goals. Unclear authority.
∑ Unpleasant leaders. Unpleasant tasks. Unpleasant ways to make decisions.
∑ Fear of upsetting other people. Fear of being disliked. Fear of being ignored.
If you have never experienced any of these problems, then maybe youíre right. Either you are the world's most perfect teammate, or you dwell in a yurt in the Gobi wasteland. (No, nomadic people, who rely on discipline and group goals for survival, perish when teamwork is shoddy.)
But if you are like everyone else, who youíre working with, and what the teaming atmosphere is like, matter tremendously.
Instead of getting smaller, the team issue has gotten almost impossibly bigger. We now understand that a lot of the little failures that happen to all of us every day are failures of team communication -- when civic groups canít get down to brass tacks on a community issue, or when husband and wife mess up on a shared commitment.
The solution? Admit that the issue goes beyond "We're all too busy," goes beyond "Oh, he's such an ass," goes beyond "I guess I'll just have to do everything myself."† Teams are not only here to stay, but there is not alternative to them -- indeed, there never was, dating back to the earliest Stone Age hunting forays.
Technology wonít protect you from teams, because it makes you team with more people (e-mail, redlining, teleconferencing, instant messaging), not fewer.
If youíre a human being, you're on teams -- and your fate depends in large part upon their success, not just your own.
So stop denying you are on teams, and start thinking about how to make all your teams successful. Your career, and your happiness, depend on it.
For more about THE NEW WHY TEAMS DON"T WORK, go to http://mfinley.com .
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by MICHAEL FINLEY
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