TWO MEN riding a tandem bike arrived at a steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the two to complete what proved to be a very stiff climb. When they got to the top, the man in front turned to the other and said: “Wow! That was a hard climb.” The fellow at the back replied: “Sure it was. And if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way, we would certainly have rolled down backwards.”
Teamwork is an excellent way to do a job well—at least for the Japanese. It is second nature for them. The Japanese don’t even have a written operating manual for it, yet they work like a well-oiled machine, seeking consensus in every step of the way. But since many of us are not Japanese, we have to do things that are applicable to us.
Unfortunately, even with so many books and seminars on teamwork, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that teams are not exactly needed under certain circumstances because, as Bonnie Edelstein said: “A team is a bunch of people in an elevator, except that the elevator is broken.”
Steve Jobs had proven time and again that teamwork could even delay the process of achieving something monumental. That’s why “Jobs was not interested in consensus,” according to Barry Moltz. The only consolation that we can probably get out of teamwork is that members of a team can always point an accusing finger at one another.
In my experience, I’ve discovered that there are two major reasons why working in teams becomes difficult. These are “process losses” and “social loafing.” But since I’ve already written a commentary about “social loafing” in this space twice, let’s focus our attention on “process losses.”
What exactly are “process losses?” They are resources, including time, effort, and energy that we spend to develop and maintain teams instead of focusing on tasks which are more important. We are interested in the procedure rather than the substance of what we hope to accomplish. Organizations come up with plans that look good on paper, but the actual result is oftentimes an embarrassment even to high school graduates.
At times, it’s much more efficient for an individual to resolve an issue alone than spend time in endless, time-consuming debates with ignoramuses.
In recent decades, I’ve successfully involved myself in helping several volunteer organizations. I’ve met a lot of people who swear they can contribute too. They hold lucrative jobs and possess an apparent extreme ability to surpass Spiderman in their respective corporations as shown in their CVs. But at the end of the day, they can only demonstrate the management skills of a rotten water cabbage.
They’re the kind of people who promise to stop what they’re doing in order to help, but would somehow manage to set the house on fire while not even realizing that it was already on fire. On the other hand, there are some people who know how to fix trouble, except that they prefer to attend the Ugly Hats Friday Night at the clubhouse where they can eat lots of pizza.
Call me a boat rocker, but I am extremely concerned about these people who promise to act like responsible members of society, except that they are always absent—if not late—during meetings. So, how can they help us? Your rhetorical question deserves an intelligent answer even if it’s not needed.
My point is that these people tend to cling to their old, nasty ways. I’m sure you’ve noticed this in your respective volunteer organizations where you can watch people prove that their most physically demanding activity is updating their profiles on Facebook.
It has reached a point where they think that their careers would suffer if they don’t have social media presence. I know of several people who have reached such Jurassic level even without lifting a finger. They seem to be nice people. They would routinely start a meeting with a prayer and close it with another prayer. But there’s nothing wrong with that.
The trouble is that in between the two prayers, they discuss important business matters and make board policies in contradiction with their prayers: “Let’s spend the money even if we’re not sure if we can get our money’s worth.”
I’m not saying they do say so verbatim. It’s just that there’s a better approach to mindless decision-making. If they ask for my opinion, I would not hesitate to recommend “rock, paper, and scissors.”
Rey Elbo is a business consultant trying to be a humor columnist. Send feedback or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.