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Although that is a great question, the real question is “why do we need teams in the first place?” People inherently know that teams can be a good thing. Understanding the “why” however, gives meaning to the “how.”
Here’s a question for you: “What is the purpose of every organization on the planet?” Some would say “it depends,” but they would be wrong. The purpose of every organization on the planet, whether nonprofit, for profit, public or private, is to solve problems.
Think about it. For Walmart, it is helping customers live better while saving money. For the Child Abuse Prevention Council, it is reducing the abuse too often suffered by women and children. For the city of Stockton, it is providing quality of life for its citizens.
All of these organizations have problems that they need to solve. For an organization to be successful at solving problems, it must strive to maintain a warehouse of the best problem-solving resources available.
Some may ask, “Why not hire a superstar that can help solve these problems and let them loose on the world?” That model might give you a certain level of success. If you are happy with mediocre, then by all means, depend on the superstar and don’t work at building your team.
Accidental teamwork can sometimes produce results. However, if you want your organization to reach its fullest potential, you need to build (invest in) your team. As Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
Working in teams has several key advantages and a few disadvantages. First, people are social by nature so working with others is often more enjoyable. Employees who enjoy their jobs are more motivated, happier, take fewer sick days and are overall better employees. Research shows that people will stay in a job that they don’t like when they have a manager or coworkers whom they do like.
Second, when multiple people work on a project it creates a synergy that allows the collective expertise, experience and knowledge to grow way beyond what it ever could be individually.
What are the odds that anyone of us has all the knowledge and experience to come up with the “best” solution to a problem? Trained teams know how to address the issue, create a solution and build on that solution using available resources. The best resolution is usually based on effectiveness, public perception and cost.
Third, by having multiple people work together on an answer, it results in additional buy-in from the team which leads to greater support from others in the organization. Having one person create the solution and then trying to sell the idea to others is always problematic. It is so much easier — and better — when others help you create the solution as it allows them the opportunity to develop a vested interest in its success.
Of course, working in teams does have two major challenges: first, it can be harder to hold people accountable in teams as opposed to when they work as individuals. Teamwork requires everyone to commit to the cause and to the team. If there isn’t enough training within the team, then it is likely some will not understand their role or function. One weak link can have an enormous impact on the overall “chain” of success.
Second, because people tend to enjoy socialization, working together can lead to time wasters such as gossiping or discussing items outside the scope of work.
Ultimately, the purpose of an organization is to solve problems. Everyone has the potential to solve a problem. The real question is how important is it that your organization solves problems better and faster than your competitors.
The more experience (including failures), expertise and knowledge you have working on a problem the better the solution (cost, effectiveness, impact) and the faster it can be fully implemented. There is no question that well-trained teams take time and money to develop, but at the end of the day don’t you want to invest in maintaining the best resources available for solving problems for your organization?
Peter Johnson is the Director of the Westgate Center for Leadership Development and the Institute for Family Business in the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org