Off late, trite phrases like “Team work makes the dream work” really stir me up. And not in a good way.
Let me explain. I’m as good a team player as the average Jane. I can work hard, plan, strategise, direct a team and slog till kingdom come, until I hit the right chord with a project I’m given. I rarely complain and don’t throw my weight around. I’ve even taken one for the team plenty of times.
But, here’s the problem. When a project is successful, management rarely rewards individual contribution. Most often, there’s an emailer or an obscure message posted on a watsapp group that says things like “Congratulations team (Insert company name). Great job.”
While this has never riled me up earlier, it’s increasingly annoying to see every successful project attributed to team effort. There have been times when the so-called “team” working on the said project has consisted of only two individuals. And you have a message that says, “Super job Team (company name), keep up the good work.”
Are the bosses patting themselves on the back?
Well, I’m pleased they’ve recognised that the project was successful. But their refusal to credit singular individuals is immensely baffling. It’s also extremely discouraging to have work accomplished by three or four individuals, attributed to the many hundreds that make up the corporate and branch offices of the company, most of whom have no clue about the project in question.
It’s become a fad for top management to dilute the performance of star performers by attributing it to the whole team. It’s all about power and control. God forbid that these achievers should get swollen heads or demand a raise in salary. By pretending that the company has succeeded as a whole, it averages out the success over a whole bunch of people, thus driving home a point that everyone is mediocre. And it is only through team effort, that each one has been able to rise.
No singular piece of writing, photography, painting or even an idea, has ever been produced by a variety of people. Most often, it’s one individual, or at the most, two or three who have been responsible for excellence. I believe there is nothing wrong in recognising that effort. Crediting people who had nothing to do with it, is not just wrong. It’s damaging.
In the same vein, I often feel guilty when I come across these general congratulatory messages being posted for things that I’ve not contributed to at all. It’s difficult to know how to react under the circumstances. Most co-workers afflicted with the same confusion, respond with the most general of all signs : “the thumbs up” sign. I choose not to respond at all. Though I’d love to barge in with the middle finger.
Many organisations today have developed a strong team culture. This is not a bad thing when balanced out with a healthy dose of individualism. The problem arises when individual contribution is sacrificed at the holy grail of team effort. I see it happening all too often these days.
” It is amazing how much people can get done if they don’t worry about who gets the credit.” – Sandra Sweeney
The problem is that those who don’t worry about getting the credit, frequently end up getting none. And that’s just the way it is.
You have to blow a foghorn today, to get yourself heard in a sea of noise, all dedicated to team work.
There is a reason why designers do their best work alone, artists prefer working in isolation and writers don’t collaborate (most of the time). Imagine the Mona Lisa being painted by a bunch of people. I’d hazard a guess that the resulting artwork wouldn’t be hanging in The Louvre. It would probably occupy a prime position in an office like mine. Not a masterpiece by any standards, but a mediocre artwork attributed to the power of a team.
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people”- Steve Jobs
Why then is Steve Jobs the first name that comes to mind when we think of Apple?
I rest my case.