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Team Building: Team Tyranny

By harveyrobbins | August 20, 2007

teamwork_one1.jpgOne of the worst and most expensive decisions organizations make is to establish a high performing team system, when all they are really after is an atmosphere of greater collaboration.

Collaboration is a misunderstood commodity. There are managers out there who still associate it mentally with the negative collaborations (collaborating with the enemy) during World War II.  So they are against it.  Other folks blanch at the mention of collaboration because it sounds tutti-frutti and unmasculine. “What do you mean, share?”


Among people with plural brain cells, however, collaboration is a powerful component of the high-performing mindset. The whole idea of organizations is rooted in the notion of people working together – collaborating – toward a common goal.

Teams do not absolutely require a collaborative atmosphere. There are successful high performing teams operating in overwhelmingly competitive environments.

But leaders of these teams should consider boosting the amount of collaboration in the air. While teams can function in a primarily competitive atmosphere, they will do better when they are encouraged to share information and experiences – including failures, something forbidden in most competitive regimes.

Now we come to an important point. While teams can get by without collaboration, organizations can enjoy widespread collaborative efforts without forcing teamwork. There are ways to get the collaborative spirit short of adopting the team structure.

What companies should consider, before resorting to teams, is whether they can alter their culture directly, making it a better place to share and think together.

To throw the team switch when all that is needed is an infusion of collaborative spirit is to invoke the dread specter of team tyranny. Team tyranny is the heavy hand of the organization at large, forcing everyone to do everything as part of a team.  The logic is underwhelming:  “Teams are great, so let’s insist everything be done that way”.

Team tyranny (“You must be democratic, you must be open, you must share! All the time. Everyone must be on a team”) sounds ironic and unlikely.  But it happens all the time.  If you see it happening, make it stop.  Not all outcomes are best accomplished via high performance teams.

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