What lies behind discouraging team work?

I have yet to meet a CEO or C level manager who does not  claim to espouse team work among his staff and between various disciplines or functions.

As a matter of fact, improving  teamwork serves has often served as a prime motivator for commissioning the services of an OD consultant.

Yet the very same senior managers who verbally espouse teamwork often sabotage it, willingly and unwillingly. They do so by using measurement systems which maximize sub systems, encouraging escalation of problems far too early in order to expedite speed of decision making,  and/or put up with and/or don’t terminate very poor team players who happen to perform well in their roles.

The reasons for verbally espousing teamwork whilst simultaneously discouraging it are many. I will point out the reasons that I encounter most frequently.

  1. The senior manager believes that teamwork may form a coalition that serve as an opposition to his\her power. (I recommend Paul Theroux’s latest book Mother Land which hilariously illustrates this dynamic in family life)
  2. The senior manager  believes that teamwork is ‘great ‘ as long as it does not slow things down.
  3. The senior manager believes that teamwork may compromise outputs of sub units by creating too much synergy-driven compromise.
  4. The senior  executive believes that high performance is more important that interpersonal teamwork skills, and can be compromised when all is said and done.

My advice to eager beaver young consultants who peddle teamwork seminars (perhaps using a model for which they have a licence to pedal ‘solutions’) is that the best medicine is confronting senior managers with the gap between what they say and what they do. Because in the end, when organizational\managerial behaviour as well as  systems support teamwork, teamwork actually happens.


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