Business men gathered as a team in the boardroom

The Double-Edged Sword of Teamwork

Teams are often at the heart of the corporate world, groups of men and women assembled for a common purpose with common goals. We spend dozens if not hundreds of hours recruiting and staffing our teams, hoping to put the best group together to achieve long-term business success.

We continue to invest in these groups with team-building exercises, meetings, and workshops, all designed to hone them into an effective assemblage of talent. Because the only way to tackle today’s complicated business challenges is with a variety of razor-sharp minds, right?

However, if teamwork and collaboration are so vital, why do so many people feel that meetings are a waste of time? Why are we supposedly wasting billions a year on unproductive collaboration?

In other words, what if we’re wrong? What if our emphasis on teamwork and team-building is just a distraction from getting actual work done? What if over-reliance on team dynamics is actually hindering our productivity?

Double-Edged Sword

There’s no denying that there’s something magical that happens when a team truly starts to come together. The camaraderie you share from working together and succeeding on a big project is an unmatched experience in the business world.

But, teamwork can be a double-edged sword. For all of the benefits of crowd-sourcing ideas and leveraging shared expertise and skills, there’s the added overhead of time. No decision can be made without the input of multiple people. Meetings have to be called to discuss every move we make. Instead of just doing the work, we’re constantly in committee to collectively figure out how the work should be done.

We run the risk of hamstringing our own agility in the interest of putting bright minds together.

The only way to tackle today’s complicated business challenges is with a variety of razor-sharp minds, right? But what if we’re wrong?

Striking a Balance

The ideal scenario is likely somewhere in between. Collaboration is at the heart of business today; you’re not going to get very far in your career playing the lone wolf. At some point, whether it’s in a full-blown team setting or simply a temporary partnership, you will have to rely on someone else in order to succeed.

But that doesn’t mean you forego the ability to be brilliantly effective alone. There’s a balance to be struck; you can put your head down and grind out the next great idea on your own, but there’s value to be had in having people to leverage as sounding boards, or supplementing your skill gaps with their expertise.

However, shoehorning every role in every department into a traditional team structure and hierarchy may not ultimately be the solution. In fact, several companies have different ideas of “teamwork” that allow them to be successful. Kimberly Clark often asks outside experts – including students from universities and employees from think-tanks, to collaborate in brainstorm sessions and share their ideas.

As with most things in the business world, your mileage may vary. It is certainly true that inefficiency in any area of business, of which teamwork is no exception, hinders productivity more than it encourages it. I think the problem is exacerbated with teams because there are more bodies involved; the amount of money being squandered gets multiplied by the number of people in the room.

Ultimately, it’s up to the leaders and managers in your organization to root out any inefficiencies and constantly be searching for ways to improve productivity, even if that means drastic restructuring or rethinking of your team’s composition. For example, the CEO of fitness app RunKeeper personally interviews every employee in order to assess individual motivation for working at the company, which helps ensure productive, motivated teams. And manufacturing firm W.L. Gore operates in a team-based, flat organization, without traditional organizational charts, chains of command and channels of communication.

It’s up to your organizations’ leaders who make up these teams to understand the dichotomy of teamwork: a potential time-sink, true, but incredibly beneficial to your career and the business as a whole if done well.


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Sean O’Brien is the strategic voice of PGi, managing the company’s internal and external communications, including his role as the primary spokesperson for PGi. He works directly with PGi Chairman and CEO Boland T. Jones, President Ted Schrafft and the executive team to craft and communicate PGi’s vision, strategy and corporate objectives. In addition, Sean is responsible for identifying, analyzing and completing corporate development opportunities, including strategic investments, mergers and acquisitions. Prior to joining PGi in 2003, Sean had a successful Wall Street career spanning equity research, sales and investment management. This financial background and his unique talent for strategic communications make him a strong voice for PGi in the marketplace, where he helps foster a two-way dialogue between the company and current and potential investors, media outlets and the analyst community. Sean lives with his wife and two daughters in Alpharetta, Georgia. He is an avid supporter of the arts and has sat on the boards of the Atlanta Ballet, Nashville Ballet and Ballet Arizona. He also served on the boards of various non-profit organizations, including Safe Haven Family Center in Nashville and Atlanta’s Next Wave Society of the Georgia Aquarium, and volunteers with Junior Achievement of Georgia.

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