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Has ‘teamwork’ become the easiest excuse for slackers at the workplace?

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All of us have heard the hacked phrase ‘we need more teamwork’, more times than we can count. If you have been a part of any sort of organisation; commercial or otherwise, the superiors are always going on about how we need more teamwork to get things done, share responsibilities, drive ourselves towards a common goal and one day achieve the elevated state of becoming the best ‘team’ known to humankind. 

Now I am not suggesting that the concept of teamwork is a horrible thing, but I think that the way a lot of people perceive what team work is, can be extremely detrimental towards actually building stronger relationships at work and striving towards a common goal.  Something we cannot deny is that there are several cases in a majority of organisations where teamwork has become a convenient excuse for hiding incompetence, passing the ball and as a shield for lazy co-workers to use at their ease.


The excuse

I am sure that there has been some part of your life that you have felt like you were bearing the major load of work in a project. This may have started during university during group presentations and it definitely would have been something you experienced as an adult at the workplace. 

Think about instances where you try and help someone out to do their job because they are struggling, or try and contribute to a deliverable that a co-worker has had no time to focus on because they were too busy, or the time that you were handed extra responsibilities during a special project because you handled it really well last time. 

During all of these instances if someone were question the person you were helping out or even you for that matter, there is a strong possibility that the both of you would say ‘yeah we are helping each other out, that’s what teamwork is all about’.

The problem

On the face of it, it might seem that there is no problem at all, you’re basically helping someone out. But it couldn’t be further from the truth. The issue is that when someone see’s that you are willing to take on a part of their workload or share responsibility in a deliverable that they are responsible for delivering themselves, they tend to assume that this is something that they can take for granted. 

With each passing project you will see a pattern forming where you are being positioned as the ‘helpful’ person at office where slowly but surely your work station starts becoming a dumping ground for a growing list of things your co-workers need ‘help’ with. What’s basically happening is that people around you start assuming that you are a convenient person to park their work with because you like helping out and you don’t really mind doing work that they were originally supposed to do.

As time goes on, you lose focus on your core job functions, you’re spending longer hours at work, the bosses are loading you with more and more responsibilities; leading you to be very unhappy.

So what is real teamwork?

Over the past eight years while working with Sri Lanka’s largest team building organisation; 361 Degrees (formerly Wild Drift), I have noticed two common traits in successful teams. Highly-functioning teams have individuals who have absolute focus on their role. Meaning that they specialise in what they do and they spare no effort in honing their individual skills to keep getting better at their jobs. 

The second aspect is trust; they share an admirable level of mutual trust amongst themselves; that the rest of the team also shares the same drive and discipline to focus on their individual roles and ensure the highest level of execution. Within this framework there is a space for collaboration and co-dependence for tasks that require joint efforts. When these aspects of Focus, Trust and concentrated collaboration come into play, it functions like a beautifully oiled machine.

Now this is not to say that you should not look to help out. To use a cricket analogy, even if you have been selected to the side as a specialist bowler, when you come out to bat, you are going to try your best and score runs for your team, because you want the best for your side.

So how can you make teamwork actually work?

You have got to keep your eyes on the common goal and focus on all the aspects that are contributing to it. Focus on creating an awareness of each persons’ roles and what part that role plays in the bigger picture. 

Understand that if you are helping someone out you are not setting yourself up as an easy target for future help, but you are taking the time to make that person better equipped at sorting out the problem or dealing with the issue by themselves the next time it arises. Always try and build a dynamic where when people ask for help they are asking because they want to learn how they can do it better rather than have someone else do it for them.

Using teamwork as an excuse has become an easy way to palm things off. Instead let’s strive to make teamwork become what it actually is; a group of different people, from different backgrounds, possessing varying skills, coming together to create magic.

(The writer is an international trainer and motivational expert. He has conducted interventions for many 

organisations here in Sri Lanka as well as in the USA, Japan and India. He can be contacted through www.FahadFarook.com.)

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