A former boss once took away my favorite desktop decoration: a coffee mug that summed up my disdain for meetings.
"None of us," it noted, "is as dumb as all of us."
In hindsight, I guess it didn't really send the message, "Hey! I'm a team player!"
But this was more than a decade ago, back when meetings were the most collaborative thing on the daily agenda — before platforms from Office 365 and Google for Work to Slack and Yammer and oh so many warm and friendly other technologies made Working Together an aspirational goal.
This was in the waning Wild West days of the workplace, when individuality was a valued commodity and groupthink was still evolving — and very few people realized that fitting in was often better than sticking out, like that tall blade of grass that gets cut first.
Now, we're all team players … yay! — even those of us who remember rolling our eyes and audibly sighing when our second-grade teachers assigned a group project.
Today, we all clearly understand that there is a direct (negative) correlation between stating too many personal opinions (however valid) and future success at a company.
But here's the thing: As anyone who has ever played a group sport can attest, teamwork takes work. You gotta know how to play together or the whole thing is just one frustrating mess.
Too Many Cooks …
One of my favorite activities in the beautiful coastal town where I live is taking a pedal-powered tour on a quadricycle built for 15. The thing has 10 seats with pedals, two seats without pedals and a bench seat in the back.
You pedal, you see a historic site, you stop at a pub. Repeat. Lots of fun.
But here's the thing: I've been on this Slow Ride with six people pedaling and with 10 people pedaling. And there is no difference in the speed at which you travel.
You see, the intensity of pedaling declines dramatically once you realize that so many other people are pedaling, too. You get lazy. And you coast — convinced that the big guy in front will pick up your slack.
Sometimes, you even drag your sluggish self to one of the seats without pedals, where you can more easily focus on your drinking, or maybe move all the way to the bench in the back, where you can really stretch your legs ... and relax.
It's the result of a phenomenon called social loafing, which is defined as the tendency of certain members of a group to get by with less effort than what they would have put in when working alone.
It bursts that happy collaboration bubble that someone floated — probably after his own pub crawl — that suggests it takes a group or a team or a whole dang company to get something done.
Social loafing plagues any group of individuals working together. But it isn’t the only potential teamwork problem, according to Wharton School Fellow Mario Moussa and Wharton School Lecturers and Senior Consultants, Derek Newberry and Madeline Boyer, the co-authors of "Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance."
Knowing what to look out for can be half the battle, starting with what they described as the five biggest teamwork Ills.
Overemphasizing Abstract Goals: Transcendent goals are uplifting, and can make work feel more meaningful. But dreams alone are not enough.
Teamwork RX: Make sure that big, collective goals align with small, personal commitments that drive performance.
Underemphasizing Roles: You need clear structure and well-defined interdependent roles to best leverage the strengths of those on your team.
Teamwork RX: Well-structured teams generally outperform those with more raw talent — strength, skill or IQ. Take time to find the roles and structure that make sense for your team.
Making Too Many Rules: The tendency in teams is to try to plan for every possible situation and create rules for all potential contingencies. This is both time-consuming and ineffective.
Teamwork RX: Focus on the few rules that are likely to have the biggest impact on your team’s culture and performance: information-sharing, decision-making and conflict resolution.
Ignoring Reflection: In a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, successes are fleeting, and reflection is as imperative when things are going well as it is when they’re not.
Teamwork RX: Remember that check-ins need not always be huge affairs reserved for daylong retreats. They can be as simple as a weekly stand-up meeting.
Failing to Sell the Change: You can be right, but ultimately still be unsuccessful. You need to take the time to get others on board with your vision.
Teamwork RX: Strength of will and charisma are not enough to push through change. Work hard to get buy-in so that people want to come along with you.
Ultimately, they claim, good teaming is about being mindful about how you’re working together, and making sure to check-in frequently to close the gaps between what you say you want to do and what you’re actually doing.