If well organised Teamwork can be both efficient and fun.
Note: Revision of a manuscript from 2014.
How do I get my team into shape
“Why Teamwork makes you lazy and unhappy”, was the title of an article by Volker Kietz1 in the Spiegel Online in 2014. It has long been proven that teamwork is inefficient and leads to social laziness. Kietz refers to an experiment from the 1880s. Ringelmann found out that the pulling force during rope pulling does not multiply with the number of participants.
If seven people were pulling on one side instead of just one, they would not pull seven times as much, but a bit less than seven times. This was regarded as scientific confirmation of the disadvantages of teamwork. Those who want to work efficiently must escape team terror and insist on a definable and measurable task. The “relaxing effect” inherent in teamwork is only useful for particularly difficult tasks, because then too much tension stands in the way of doing the work efficiently.
And indeed, who has not been annoyed by teamwork, fruitless discussions, delays in decision-making, unclear Didn't you wish for a quiet study with closed doors, where tasks could have been completed more efficiently through focused individual work?
This article assumes that such statements completely misjudge the value and nature of teamwork. The strengths, dynamics and potential of teamwork are not even remotely perceived and teamwork is thus beaten below its value.
A simple model is presented on the basis of which team qualities can be easily assessed and a team can be made fit again with targeted measures.
Teamwork makes rich and happy
The contribution mentioned at the beginning of this article has found suitable answers, but to a wrong question. Several wrong assumptions and conclusions are hidden. Some of them are here – to warm up, as it were – invalidated.
Individual team members
If one follows the arguments put forward, could the German national football team be dissolved and reduced to a single player, perhaps even an excellent goalkeeper? A single player could then be able to develop his full potential unhindered, without being slowed down by his colleagues. The “social loafing” as well as the “team terror” would come to an end and a clearly measurable individual performance could finally unfold efficiently.
Joking aside: Even if teamwork may involve “frictional losses”, the seven people on the rope will still defeat the individual on the other side in neutral gear, so to speak, and pull him over. Teamwork is widespread today – and for good reason, as we will see in a moment. The question that actually arises is that of the ideal conditions and criteria for successful teamwork.
Teamwork is not (always) automatic
Another false assumption or assumption is that teamwork is unconditional, automatic and simply happens when several people work together.
A comparison with a football team confirms this in a nutshell. Only a fool would expect even highly talented and capable football players to play perfectly together without any difficulty. Especially when it comes to a local club or a few hobby players, this doesn't work out by itself.
In this context, it is clear that a great deal of effort has to be invested - a lot of effort, in fact, for top performances - in order to get a team fit and to be able to tap the full team potential. Since in social and economic life teams are at the “helm” everywhere, it is not easy to save the effort of team building and fall back on individual performances, which are clearly the shortest compared to a team not only when pulling the rope.
Diverse teams are stronger
After all, the image of rope pulling in a team paints a greatly abbreviated picture of teamwork. Rope pulling is all about the physical and quantifiable strength of each individual. The true quality of teamwork only unfolds when individual strengths are combined in different areas.
This is also clear to every football fan. No goalkeepers or strikers make up a team. A team is only created by combining individual profiles to form a convincing overall profile.
Software has also long been developed globally in small and large companies by powerful teams. Linux and Wikipedia were created by the combined strengths of many people in a virtual team, although many co-authors may be socially lazy because of the voluntary character, but an individual would never and never have been able to do this, even Brockhaus had to admit defeat to this casual team energy.
“A strong organization combines the strengths of your employees.” (Peter Drucker)
In summary, it can therefore be said that It's not about the question “teamwork vs. individual work?", that has long been decided. It is about, if you want to put it like this: “Who has the better team?". And the better team is not the one with the greatest strength or speed or the highest intelligence etc., but the one with the best combination and integration of individual strengths into a convincing overall package that can optimally unfold its energy from within.
Approximately at the same time as Ringelmann, at the end of the 19th century, a well thought-out division of labour and processing methodology was implemented in the slaughterhouses of Chicago, which became groundbreaking for automated mass production as a whole and also became the basis for Taylorism with its claim to optimise production methods as “scientific management”.
Work processes were defined and prescribed in advance down to the last detail as small steps in an overall production process that could not be overlooked from the workers’ point of view.
Modern concepts such as a work breakdown structure or even the Standard Numbering System (SNS) of the ATA iSpec in the aviation documentation also find their conceptual roots here. Even today, such work concepts can still be found as Neo-Taylorimus, e.g. in call centers or system catering.
In the 1980s, the Japanese car industry shocked the American one by low prices and a very high quality of products, especially cars. One of the main reasons for this was the application of new production methods.
William Edwards Deming, an American quality manager, had developed them. Although he was not heard in the USA, he was heard in Japan in the 1950s.
Deming promoted, among other things, a new work culture in which responsibility for quality is made clear to all those involved and is set as a company goal, in which there is no fear of making mistakes, numerical performance targets are eliminated and it is ensured that everyone can be proud of their work.
Quality is understood as a task and the success of a team.
It was only after the shock of the economic success of these methods that Deming's concepts finally found demand in the USA via Japan and triumphantly found their way into quality management as a whole.
In the field of software development in the 1990s, Kent Beck and a few colleagues again put people (as customers and teams) with their expectations and tasks in the foreground before formal procedures and complex planning. Instead of the V-model, with The documents and procedures should certainly lead to the desired project result, but in practice they often only devour money. Daily coordination and open communication should continuously ensure the optimal teamwork for the customer.
From this “extreme programming”, “agile software development” rapidly developed over the past decades, which is the measure of all things today. Concepts such as pair programming (where programming is done in pairs), stand-up meetings (where short but frequent coordination takes place while standing), or Kanban (where teamwork is made transparent on a whiteboard) are the world's leading methods of software development, now also and especially at the world's leading global software companies, and no longer only at small start-ups, which have always done it this way anyway and have been able to score and develop with their efficiency.
Teamwork is the key factor here, reducing risks, increasing efficiency and decisively raising efficiency, productivity and the feeling of well-being in a department and the whole company.
Teamwork does not come about by itself
Social loafing through teamwork is only possible if tasks are distributed intransparently within the team and methods for performance tracking are missing. It is not a weakness of teamwork, but points to a missing or underdeveloped understanding of teamwork, just like the term “team terror”.
This is probably based on the expectation that teamwork is automatic when people are supposed to work together, they just work as a team. What is not taken into consideration is that this may require certain preconditions and that the ability to work in a team may require more than the existence of basic social skills of each individual.
Fortunately, it doesn't always have to be the same amount of effort that is required in football to achieve the best performance of a team. With a few simple rules and basics, you can go a long way.
Measuring team fitness
In order to find out how fit a team is, first of all, employees can simply be asked how well they think they can contribute their working ability together with their colleagues. If this is evaluated on a scale, a numerical value can even be calculated as a Team Fitness Score. This The concept of the Team Fitness Score was developed by the author as part of a project at the University of St. Gallen.
It may not be representative or scientifically worthy of being used, but it is certainly sufficient as a guide for assessing team fitness and for comparison.
Requirements for good teamwork
the existence of a recognized goal of the team Only if everyone knows where the journey is going and what is to be done for it, everyone can help as much as possible, even if they have reservations about some aspects.
the definition and transparency of roles, tasks and resources (including budgets): only if everyone knows what he or she should do and in what time and financial framework his or her participation should take place, can one's own work performance be optimally integrated.
the existence and knowledge of processes and procedures that regulate cooperation, especially communication: only in this way can the necessary quality and cohesion be achieved.
mechanisms for resolving conflicts and the resolution of interpersonal tensions: These almost always provide valuable indications of unused resources and potential for improvement. The sooner they are taken up and resolved, the faster the team can continue to grow.
After the initial letters of the English terms (Goals-Roles-Processes-Interpersonal), this model is also called the GRPI model:
The beauty of these four levels is that they are interrelated. The clarification of a higher level reduces problems and challenges on the lower levels to a large extent. It is therefore more than sensible and efficient to tackle them from top to bottom. Accordingly, once levels 1 to 3 are established, interpersonal conflicts only little space left.
These four factors can also be implemented in virtual teams that work together only connected to telecommunications and the Internet.
In addition to these organizational conditions, it must be ensured that the appreciative way of dealing with each other and the quality of communication are right.
Team spirit results from relationship skills5
In international and diverse teams, various factors can play a role here that must be taken into account. One example is the different ways of dealing with errors that occur. In Germany, project and team work is often regarded as exemplary, if no mistakes occur at all. In the USA, on the other hand, mistakes are more likely to be dealt with directly and openly.
A success factor for the team's ability to learn and thus for its development is therefore an open and trusting environment. The prerequisites for this include modesty, respect and trust 6. How to achieve this, Kasthan has worked out well with regard to value-based communication 4.
Individual team members
Even if a team is set up according to these principles and “lives” according to them, persistent difficulties may arise which cannot be solved easily with the established conflict resolution mechanisms or with team coaching or team mediation. In the literature cited 7 there are various concepts and designations for such “characters”, such as lazy, dazzling, narcissist or alpha, beta, gamma types etc. with accompanying tips on how to deal with them. The latter come from rank dynamics, a concept that was developed by Raoul Schindler8.
In particular, if the above-mentioned prerequisites for successful teamwork are compromised, the question arises whether the behaviour of individuals undermining team fitness should actually continue to jeopardise team success. If, in individual cases and by applying appropriate procedures (such as team mediation or similar), no solution can be found that guarantees team quality for all sides, the exclusion of the team member must also be considered as the ultima ratio.
Of course, this is not intended from the outset, but if the case arises, the interests of the team may have to be weighed against those of the individual who undermines them, and action must be taken according to the result of this weighing. Dealing with such a situation in terms of team fitness is a clear leadership task.
Other challenges can be different cultural or performance-related levels in the team. This can easily be the case, especially in Group companies. Performance-related diversity in particular can greatly impair team fitness: Nothing weakens more than being surrounded by colleagues who work at a much higher level or those who work at a much lower one.
On the other hand, nothing is more motivating than being challenged in a team or having the opportunity to pass on your knowledge and learn something new. Ideally, the above-mentioned prerequisites for successful teamwork should be referred to and the team should be set up in such a way that such differences are recognised and everyone benefits from them.
The combined skills, interest and commitment of several people can represent much more than just the sum of individual contributions and achievements. Teamwork in this sense stands for highest efficiency, creativity and productivity and thus for a way of working that rightly shapes and will continue to shape our society. However, teamwork does not develop by itself and it is regrettable which teamwork illiteracy prevails over long distances.
However, this fruit of teamwork can only be reaped by those who provide the right framework conditions, clear structures and an appreciative quality of communication. With the presented GRPI model from Beckhard as a basis, this can be achieved in a simple and transparent way.
It is to be wished to all team members that the potential of teamwork is generally recognised and that it is not only in football that it is consistently acted upon. Not only the fun of the work and the motivation, but also the business location and the ability to innovate would fully benefit from this.
Kietz, Volker (2014): “Warum Teamarbeit faul und unglücklich macht” (Why Teamwork makes you lazy and unhappy), Spiegel Online. ↩︎
Beckhard, Richard (1972): Optimizing Team Building Effort, Journal of Contemporary Business 1(3) 23-32, 1972; Beckhard is together with Edgar Schein the spiritual father of process-oriented consulting and change management. ↩︎
Marie Miyashori (2011). The empathy factor, Puddledancer Press ↩︎
von der Oelsnitz/Busch (2012): Team: Toll ein anderer macht's, Orell Füssli; With a vivid overview of the team characters. ↩︎
Fitzpatrick/Collins-Sussman: TeamGeek, OReilly 2012; focus on software development. ↩︎
Braun ua (2004): Die Coaching Fibel, Linde; in German: With a contribution on team coaching and rank dynamics according to Schindler (alpha, beta, gamma types). ↩︎
Schindler, Raoul (2016): Das lebendige Gefüge der Gruppe (The living fabric of the group). Psychosozial-Verlag, Gießen, ISBN 978-3-8379-2514-2. ↩︎