IT Employment

Team work and what's in it for me?

One white paper says that cooperation between workers is beneficial to a firm, but employees won't do it unless there's an incentive.

I'm fascinated by scientific studies on the behavior in the workplace. I think it's interesting to see how the pieces of the office macrocosm work together.

Unfortunately, I hate to actually read the usually dry papers that describe the studies. It may date back to boring school days but as soon as somebody pops a footnote into a white paper, they lose my attention faster than Lindsay Lohan's at an AA meeting.

I recently read a white paper called Competition, Cooperation, And Corporate Culture. I read it because I've often been perplexed by companies that don't encourage teamwork among their employees. The paper was diseased with the aforementioned footnotes, but I was able to glean some really interesting statements. Here's one:

There are many examples showing that workers with complementary skills can increase output and productivity by helping each other on individual tasks. Similarly, communication and the sharing of relevant information between different workers or work groups often greatly enhance the efficiency of production. While cooperation between workers is beneficial to the firm, the exertion of cooperative effort is usually costly to a worker. Moreover, it is typically hard to identify, let alone to verify, whether or not a worker helped a co-worker or shared information. Hence, incentives for cooperation are difficult to provide. Firms therefore often face inefficiently low levels of worker cooperation.

In other words, unless employees are already intrinsically motivated to cooperate and communicate with their co-workers, there's no "reason" for them to be so. I guess you could reward teamwork and cooperation with money bonuses but how could you measure it?

This is really depressing to me. It's another one of those workplace characteristics (like employee happiness) that doesn't have a direct line to company profits, so it's not emphasized.

The paper compares two airlines-American (whose employees claim, see communication as a low priority) and Southwest (has become the prototype of a strong cooperative corporate culture). Southwest Airlines announced its 31st consecutive year of profitability in 2004-- a big achievement given the high turbulence of the airline industry in the past decades.

So let's discuss. First, does your company stress communication and cooperation? If so and your company is successful, do you think that's why?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

11 comments
Gabby22
Gabby22

I've found that country cultural (and yes, racial) issues are at least as important as the policy regarding teamwork. Having worked with many different orgs they vary considerably, but mostly it comes down to the people themselves and what sort of internal culture the org already has. I've certainly seen a big difference between countries here (no names!). It also seems to depend on how comfortable the staff are that their job is secure at their current performance level - if they're nervous, they're likely to be much more self-focused. The org can influence this adversely by agressive individual performance assessments, or managers who stress individual outcomes over team outcomes, or by encouraging competition by disparaging comparisons.

jimf2214
jimf2214

Having recently moved from a public sector organisation to a private sector organisation, I can instantly see the difference. In the public sector we had no financial incentives to do any 'better' than the next person, so naturally we would work together for a common goal - and to make our lives easier. This doesn't tend to be the case in the private sector - where people are constantly trying to out-gun each other and try and be noticed as 'the best' - whether that is actually the case or not?!?!

cheryl.healy
cheryl.healy

Thank you for sharing! I definitely agree with your article and wish we could see more effort on Teamwork within companies. I work for a great company and although we all have specific job duties we try and lean on each other when we need help or tips and tricks. There are of course employees that tend to be more helpful than others. I can say from experience that the individuals who were more team oriented were the ones who eventually received promotions and/or awards. We recently started doing something that I think really helps encourage teamwork. Each quarter we will come up with a Team Goal that we all work together on (assigning roles such as Project Manager etc.). I found it to be very effective and efficient. In the past we used to just have individual goals and often needed to engage other departments to help with certain aspects of the project/goal. When we moved to the Team approach I was amazed by the power a group had to get things done rather than just an individual. Other departments and stakeholders were more likely to help meet your deadlines when they knew a whole team was relying on them rather than just an individual. You would be surprised how much you can accomplish when you come together.

Jwhytis
Jwhytis

I hear what others say when they site competition as a deterrent to teamwork. Its hard to watch others benefit unjustly from the sweat of your brow. As great as that pain may be teamwork is also your best defense against the credit stealer and one of the greatest accelerators of career growth. I have been working remote for 8+ years. At first I was going into an office in Atlanta but working with a team in Dallas then I started working from home with both the team in Dallas and a second in Atlanta. With so little face time day to day it would be easy to be trapped by a credit thief. However, if you pick up your phone, give people the answers they need and show up and help with their problems you can dilute any single persons attacks against you. As you go along you discover not everyone is an unconscionable so and so. Develop relationships with the good guys. They're out there and they will appreciate you as much as you do them. I can't tell you how much I've learned from the many good people I've met in the workplace. I've got the scars from the knives in my back too but I get fewer and fewer the more people I help. At the end of the day what pays me most is what develops my skills the most and that happens quickest with the input of other people searching for excellence. Cheers

PanamaPat
PanamaPat

My best work experience was when a department I worked in tested a new style of management with the staff. The client oriented staff worked as a team discussing, then confronting issues and resolving them, and developing new offerings to the clients; which generated revenue for our department, rather than being only an expense to the company, as it had been in the past. It was hugely successful and the company was more profitable. Clients received better service and gave us many referrals within a short period of time. Everyone excelled because management got out of the way and let us show them what was possible!

TheAZAngel
TheAZAngel

I firmly believe that if there is team work, it would build a stronger company but where I work, there are those that don't see it as such. I recently experienced a situation where the words "What is my obligation to help you?" were spoken to me from a team member. I was highly offended when one of the core values of the company is supposedly teamwork but I guess he must have missed that memo.

wunderdojo
wunderdojo

I feel bad for the first two posters, sounds like they don't work at places that put an emphasis on teamwork. I'm coming up on my second month at a firm (www.warschawski.com) where teamwork and cooperation is something they really put thought and energy into. From once a month company outings to do something fun and totally non-work related (bowling, beach volleyball, etc.) to everyone having lunch together every day (something I was totally unused to -- I always just ate lunch at my desk if at all), they really make an effort to build a cohesive team instead of just hoping that it happens, and it really does influence how everyone works together. Stealing a line from JFK, a rising tide really does lift all boats and the team here -- both employees and management -- seem to really buy into the notion that if the company is doing well we're all going to individually do better. You can look at it as "I'm competing with every other employee for X position" as the prior posters do, or you can view it as "We're all going to work hard to make the company succeed so there are that many more available opportunities for X position." Fortunately I'm at a place where the latter approach prevails.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Any modern organization uses teamwork. Think about it. Who cleans the bathrooms? Orders supplies? Fixes the copier? etc. I think that is teamwork. The reason we don't see the teamwork is because the workload was divided before we got there. Sometimes we only see our one little area of responsibility. This causes organizational myopia. That short sightedness can lead to poor performance over all. I don't know how to get people in those organizations to look at the overall picture. To see where they "fit in" to the scheme of things. Heck, sometimes I don't know myself. Just a thought.

tbmay
tbmay

Co-workers in most environments are competitors. When people are competing for promotions, raises, good-will of the boss and/or peers, you don't have an environment for teamwork. Another reality...the employees, including management, don't really care about the company. They're there because they're net beneficiaries of the relationship. I've worked in many environments in my quarter century in the workforce. The best examples of teamwork were actually the small, family run businesses where there were no opportunities for advancement and everyone knew it. Larger businesses are consumed with personal agendas, and teamwork means little more than, "What's your is ours and what's mine is mine."

shash_m
shash_m

One of my colleagues is quite vocal about team work and team building. He keeps sending articles, cartoons, quotes to boost the team work and morale. My manager is very much impressed for his kind work. I thought he is very benevolent guy so I asked him to guide me on a project but I got negative reply from him. Lately, I realized that he has some ulterior motive to climb the corporate ladder fast by painting a ???nice guy??? picture. This is not new thing; you will get this type of dual face species on every organization. They try to take credits of other work so don???t sit silent. Team work is good but be careful of credit stealers.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Competing companies don't cooperate, and neither do competing employees. As simple as that.

Editor's Picks