Water is good for you. Unless you're at the bottom of the ocean with an anchor tied to your ankle. Teamwork is like that. It can be a good thing, but more often it's like trying to breathe underwater. Consider a brief list of reasons that teamwork will make any normal individual perform below his highest potential:

1. Your best time for thinking might be the other guy's best time to take a nap. If that's the only time you can have a meeting, one of you isn't going to be operating at peak performance.

2. Credit for success is distributed across the team. So is blame. If you believe people are motivated by a desire for credit, or a desire to avoid blame, teamwork is a blunting force.

3. In any group of three people, there's generally at least one disruptive moron.

4. People have different work styles. Some people like to do everything just right. Others like the quick and dirty approach, fixing things as they go. In a team, you spend half of your time arguing over the best philosophy for every action.

5. To mediocre minds, a brilliant idea and a dumb idea sound identical. A team will vote out the best ideas along with the worst.

6. The dominant team members will get their way over the objections of the meek, no matter how competent the meek might be.

7. In a team, you must continually explain yourself, defending every thought and every action.

8. Everyone has a different risk profile. Your appetite for risk won't be shared by the group.

9. Everyone wants to do the fun stuff and not the boring-but-necessary parts.

10. You eat when the team agrees that it's time for lunch. That means you're often hungry while trying to work, or wasting time eating when you're not hungry.

11. All meetings last longer than they should.

One of the implications of more people working for themselves, and working from home, is that people will be somewhat freed from the tyranny of teamwork. I wonder if that bodes well for the future of humanity.

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May 31, 2009
Actually some sociologist did a study on this a couple of decades ago. First they divided people (probably college students) into groups by smart, average and slow. They then did some measure of output of the individuals (independent of their smarts measure) such as solving a puzzle. They found smart people got more done than the others.

But then they gave each person (smart, average or slow) an assistant who was smart, average or slow. For a smart person, an average or slow assistant actually slowed them down. For an average or slow person, a smart assistant actually sped them up (duh!). It got more complicated when they had an assistant of the same "smarts".

Then the study went on to groups of 3 with various combinations of smart, average and slow members.
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May 29, 2009
I'd like to add #12: "Some people insist on doing everything the way they've always done it, even if it doesn't make any sense."

I'm having this issue with a programmer now. We're trying to finish something within a few weeks, and the thing that's taken us the longest is his insistence on doing things the way he's always done them, even though it doesn't model the business in a useful way (They're not inherently bad ideas and they're certainly a fine STARTING point; they just don't 100% work for what we're trying to accomplish, so there's always a little "yes, but..." at the end where I have to argue with him for two hours until he understands the business). Not every business is the same, and so not every business system can be exactly the same. This experience did go a long way to explaining me why my employer's accounting system is so abysmally bad, though: it was selected and implemented by a team.

It also comes up when I try to tell people how our processes could be improved, but we've got people who have been entrenched for 30 years who were told something once and just kept doing it. One of them was told to charge every expense of a certain type to a single one of my accounts (I have far more than one), and after weeks of arguing with her, I finally had the account she was using inactivated and got new numbers, so that the computer gave her an error when she tried again, and she was FORCED to learn something new.

There was another time where someone was charging my accounts but not putting any descriptive text or explanation at all, leaving me with no clue what was happening. Her excuse was "The accountants yelled at me for putting too much information on the forms." Yes, this really happened. I finally got a bunch of people to route the expenses through me first, because even though it's more work, it's WAY less work than cleaning up their messes all the time.

And, #13, there will always be one person in a meeting who - although they're very smart and personable enough - never, ever shuts up and never, ever gets to the point, throwing so much pedantic verbiage at you that eventually you tune out and want to take a nap.

As for Scott, you already did two comics about this. One was about the collective IQ of a meeting. It was something like:

IQ 100: Dilbert in a room - "The project is good."
IQ 90: Dilbert and one coworker - "The project is good." "But are there any issues?"
IQ 80: Dilbert and two coworkers
IQ 70: Dilbert, two coworkers, and the PHB (quickly degenerating - "Do the issues have issues?")
(or something like this)

Another one had a group of people trying to write a sentence, and they couldn't get past the first word ("The") because "It might offend people named THEodore." Heh.
May 28, 2009
Years ago I was put into a team-building workshop. It was started with an "air crash in the desert" scenario, after which we individually filled in a quiz about how to cope with the situation. We then worked as teams to answer the same quiz. The theory was that a team would always come up with a better approach to surviving the crash. Yeah team!

The trouble was that my individual score at the beginning of the test set some kind of record for "goodness", but my team did worse that that. A lot worse. My team was full of idiots, and I ran out of energy trying to convince them not to commit suicide, scenario-wise.

The instructor was dumbfounded by this. Never, he declared, had this happened before, and it probably had something to do with me being Canadian. We're all experienced in such air crashes, apparently. The more obvious conclusion, that teams are dumber on average than any random, reasonably bright individual, seemed out of reach. That idea doesn't sell training courses, or guide books. Sigh.

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May 27, 2009
Do you have an hidden motive behind your posts to make us all sputter in amazement at your thinking?

All of the above are fixed by having a good team with a good leader. Teamwork does not mean everyone huddling in a room working off some common ground that nobody is happy with. It means some leader selects a team that will fit well together, knows their personal quirks, and builds a culture in which they all can excel, then brings the efforts together to a final result.

A team multiplies the effectiveness of the leader - bad leaders build horrible teams. Great leaders build amazing teams.
I admit, the great ones are few. But they do exist. Maybe you have spent too many years writing about poor leadership to have seen any?
May 27, 2009
There are at least two types of teams. The diffuse responsibility, consensus type described which has all the ills enumerated and the focused responsibility, leader-follower type epitomized by coach-led sports teams or any level of command in the military services. The fatal flaw of business "teams" begins and ends with the delusion you can have a team without a leader and willing and better yet eager followers.
May 27, 2009
How many of us have these examples? My company made us a do a teambuilding exercise - everybody had a small piece of a picture, and only through description (not showing it) could we determine what the group picture was. Out of a team of 40 people, everybody read their description. Half way through I knew what it was and said "I know what it is. It's the.." (Mona Lisa) and the groupthink teacher stopped me. I wasn't the leader so was speaking out of turn; I wasn't the guy taking minutes, or the guy writing down the descriptions, etc. "yeah but I KNOW WHAT IT IS. Let me say it and while the other moron teams spend an hour debating we can allvgo to starbucks". No, this is a *team* exercise. "I'm part of the team, and I solved it, which means the team solved it. I don't want credit. Let's all LIE about how we used the teamwork to solve it for all I care!" No, no...you aren't a team player.
May 27, 2009
I was subjected to a teamworking excersise, we had to pretend we where stranded up a mountain and had to select the best items of kit to help survive. I got in first with the idea to choose the most experienced member of the team and let them make the choice. The whole thing would have been complete in 5 minutes and we could have went to the pub.
But no, that didn't suit the 'team'. So we spent over an hour and a half debating every item. At the end of it all the team scored OK, but not as well as the guy I wanted to select (Scott leader).
May 27, 2009
The differences between a team and an angry mob, is that the mob is more focused,and more likely to get the job done quickly and efficiently. If you could get the teamwork of the mob, without the killing and pillaging, the work ouput would be amazing. Unfortunately, most people that you will be stuck on a team with do not have the same goals in mind, sure you are all there for the same task, but everyone wants something different from it.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2009
I was in a previous job once where meetings were common. On arrival once, I asked "Can we make some decisions today?"

Needless to say now I am working from home and loving it. Though maybe my co-workers are loving it more!!!
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2009
Coaching my son's little league team, I can tell you that just about all of these apply to teams starting at very early ages.
May 27, 2009
After two year of working in team-based organization I have to agree with the complete post. For once I worked in a well functioning team, but all good things come to end. That was great, but the lottery never hits twice.

All I can add is that the teamwork teams are not as weak as their weakest link; their as good as their most dominant idiot is... ;) If there is two of these, whole thing goes to waste. The one good team I was in, it lacked an idiot capable of over dominating others, hence good results, and not one meeting went to overtime.
May 26, 2009
Fantastic Post, Scott.
You can make a series of strips for dilbert based on these points.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2009
(Laughing because I teach the 'stranded in Canadian Wilderness" exercise) Ummm...as a teacher of Group Communication, I have to object. Working in teams is a learned skill. If you're doing it with a bunch of other boobs, you get group-think (where the bad ideas sound just as good--or better--than the good ones.) If you have LEARNED to work in groups, you get synergy where the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Just because you know how to walk doesn't mean you will be the next Dancing with the Stars champ. Just because you know how to talk and sorta how to listen doesn't mean you you can be a team just because there are a bunch of you.

Even morons have value if the group knows how to be a team. Since morons ARE, for instance, customers, their viewpoint is helpful. Good leadership and good teamwork mean you solve all the challenges. (There's food in the fridge, if YOU're hungry, eat. This is our agenda and we will accomplish it in the time given. Our triumph will be greater than anything we could do individually and we will share credit, so our share will be exponentially greater than by ourselves. The rare failure will be spread around, dividing it. Need I go on?)

Great teams accomplish the impossible...like the SR-71. Great teams allow for some autonomy, require personal responsibility and group accountability. For a business that uses teams quite well, look at Whole Foods as one way of really achieving good things on a day-to-day basis.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2009
I think there's a big difference between teamwork when you're in "design" stage rather than implementation.

When you have a task to do, everyone knows what their role is and how the pieces all work together to make something, that's beautiful.

On the other hand, when you get a team all providing their opinons on how something should be done that's when the term "justifiable homocide" comes to mind.

To paraphrase, a camel is a horse that was designed by a team.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2009
I think the issue of teamwork can be described in terms of assets - skills, time available - and costs - time and effort diverted to communication and coordination.

At the best of times, a sense of camaraderie, of team spirit, can unify focus and effort. At the worst of times, personal agendas and antagonisms can sabotage any effort.
May 26, 2009
that's so true. in an hr i'll be sitting for a team meeting to work on a "project". feeling really tired, but can't avoid it.

one thing you forgot to mention is that the person who calls for the meeting most frequently is the biggest moron in the team.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2009
I'd like to read this text outloud in the begining of my first meeting tomorrow, is it ok?
May 26, 2009
As pointed out by you in countless funny strips, teams create suffering for many engineers, artists, people who get irritated easily, and smart people. For tasks such as writing a strip, creating software, a cool new app, etc., a team is often an obstacle. However, for great enterprises to succeed, teams are often necessary. Working from home is great, unless your work needs to be integrated with others to have any benefit. In that case, SOMEONE must integrate your work. If you opt out of that process, who knows how it will be mangled by others. If you want to preserve the value of your independent work, you either need to be involved in the team, or trust whoever will make the decisions. As mentioned earlier, a great leader can earn the trust of independent producers, and enhance the work of everyone. The team is not the enemy. The bad team (and bad leader) is the enemy.
Water doesn't kill people- not swimming kills people.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2009
This is why I run my own business. Meetings to me are like garlic to vampires, and group projects make me break out in hives. When I was on a church committee, I had to gnaw on my arm frequently to keep from strangling some idiot who just had to bring up the same point that the previous four idiots had babbled about for hours. Sadly, it wasn't the kind of church that allows strangling, at least not during meetings.

Strangely, though, I love playing team sports.
Go figure.
May 26, 2009

Long-winded, eh? lol.
I've done that same survival "team-building" exercise, too. All it does is prove Scott's point #5 - a brilliant idea and a dumb idea sound identical.

Most "Groups" aren't together long enough to form a "Team". Normal team dynamics start with a "Forming" stage, where everyone starts to feel each other out, and define roles.
Next is the "Storming" phase, where all the differences in style that Scott points out come out. Factions form, EVERYTHING gets hashed and re-hashed. Many "teams" die here.

But, if they can get past this stage, then comes "Norming" and "Performing", where the ideal of a "team" comes together. A leader can get the team to this place, if he knows how. Too few do. And too few are properly trained.

Even those so-called "team-building" exercises do little to actually build a team. If your group was a team, they would have trusted your knowledge about survival skills. As it was, everyone had an opinion, and everyone's opinion was included. That's not "Perfoming".
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