“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
In week 5 of college we were divided into five groups and required to complete a mock assessment center. My group of six people was given a scenario to complete, and we had to work together to complete it. When I think of a team, I picture a group of two or more people who collaborate to achieve a shared goal. It could be a professional aim, an academic goal, a personal goal, or any other type of objective. But what does it mean to work as a team? According to The Happy Manager, teamwork is “when a group of people work together cohesively, towards a common goal, creating a positive working atmosphere, and supporting each other to combine individual strengths to enhance team performance.”
Personal morals vs teamwork
Our scenario involved trying to get to a remote island while escaping a burning, sinking ship. Our situation seemed to play on our emotions because there were 14 passengers carrying objects that could benefit us when we arrived on the island, but we could only take 7 of them. As a result, we had to determine who to save and who to abandon. My group requested me to name the passengers I wished to save after we had all read and comprehended the scenario, which I did. Everyone in the team contributed well and got an opportunity to share their ideas, and one person was designated as the note taker. Everyone seemed to agree with the initial 7 but as we thought about it, more concerns arose. Would we require particular items on a deserted island, or could we do without? Would certain individuals be a liability?
A pregnant woman was the only passenger that made me feel conflicted. We had all agreed to save her at first, but after further consideration, we realized that we didn't really need the supplies she had because another passenger had similar items. My teammates all wanted to switch her out, but I felt like I was betraying my values because she was pregnant, and if she died, so would her child. Even if she was a liability, I wanted to save her, and my teammates understood. However, they made valid points that persuaded me to reconsider their decision, and in the end, we all agreed to leave her and take someone else.
Fortunately, despite the fact that some of our team members had never interacted before, we were all able to work well together, communicate efficiently, and listen to one another. Yet, I am aware that working in groups can be challenging at times because it involves a group of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Regardless, we've been told since we were children that "teamwork makes the dream work." This reminds me of a volunteering opportunity where every one of us had our own duties and placements. During the event, my colleague, became enraged and stormed off, leaving his post unattended. I stepped in to cover for him until he calmed down and returned, at which point I had to cover for another colleague who got ill and needed a break. As a consequence, the first coworker and I worked together to cover all three roles, demonstrating excellent teamwork.
However, I read an intriguing article in which a journalist interviewed Harvard psychology professor J. Richard Hackman, that raised some interesting points about how teams may underperform because team members are unaware of their responsibilities or because team members may not even know each other (Coutu, 2009). Most of us can probably relate to being assigned into groups at school, with some people not knowing what they're supposed to do and others taking on all the work, or not knowing anyone in the group. Another article addressed the findings of a study conducted at Leiden University, which revealed that people are "more lone wolves than team players" (Willingham, 2019). Despite the fact that the articles highlighted some fascinating points about how working alone can be effective, I believe that working in groups can be more beneficial at times. It all boils down to making sure the team is well-organized and that everyone is communicating well. In a team, effective communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands their role in the group. It also aids in forming bonds which encourages individuals to acquire a sense of belonging and contributes to team cohesion (Stowell & Johnson, n.d.).
Other factors that would influence whether a team works well or not would be:
§ The team member’s abilities: Making sure the team is diverse and everyone has their own unique skills.
§ Mental state: If a team member has a pessimistic outlook, that could affect the entire team’s mood.
§ Conscientiousness: having team members with high levels of conscientiousness helps make sure the team is working well and producing great results.
§ High-ability members: members who are willing to enhance their skills, adapt, reason and solve problems are more likely to form a good team (Weir, 2018).
To summarize, I've learnt that communication is essential for effective teamwork, and that you may need to compromise and make decisions that benefit the team at times. Further, I believe it is critical to ensure that everyone in a team is capable of collaborating with others; else, tensions may arise.
My future as a team leader
If I have the opportunity to build a team as a leader in the future, I will make sure to engage with all members and select high-ability people with high degrees of conscientiousness and a positive outlook. People who can adapt and reason effectively, as well as those who work hard and take pride in producing quality work, are crucial members of any team. Furthermore, as a realist who is also an optimist, I believe that maintaining a healthy attitude when confronted with adversity is extremely beneficial and may motivate a team to work through any issues that may arise.
Coutu, D., 2009. Why Teams Don’t Work. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/2009/05/why-teams-dont-work> [Accessed 12 March 2021].
The Happy Manager. 2021. What is Teamwork. [online] Available at: <https://the-happy-manager.com/article/what-is-teamwork/ > [Accessed 12 March 2021].
Weir, K., 2018. What makes teams work? [online] American Psychological Association. Available at: <https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/09/cover-teams> [Accessed 12 March 2021].
Willingham, E., 2019. How We Roll: Study Shows We’re More Lone Wolves Than Team Players. [online] Scientific American. Available at: <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-we-roll-study-shows-were-more-lone-wolves-than-team-players/> [Accessed 12 March 2021].