There’s an old saying among sports coaches:
“A champion team will defeat a team of champions.”
However, as much as we value the ideals of teamwork and connectedness, there’s also the alternative notion of the “rugged individual” or “prima donna,” who stands out from the crowd and succeeds without help from anyone.
Our culture often places more value on a single talented person than on a cohesive team that has no standout star.
Research must ask, what is better: one standout player or a cohesive team of average performers?
The Value of Teamwork
From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s easy to understand why humans work well in teams. If our ancestors were unable to get along in a group, they would be unlikely to survive very long.
This can be seen in species who share common ancestors with humans. You won’t see an alpha male monkey walking alone without their followers, for example. Once you are in a team, you get stronger.
Under the VIA (Values in Action) personality test, which gives an inventory of a person’s character strengths, teamwork is considered a strength in the “Justice” category. People who have teamwork as their top strength usually are “loyal and dedicated teammates and work hard for the success of the group,” (VIA Institute on Character, 2016).
Having a penchant for teamwork ensures that members of society don’t just focus on themselves, but make sure entire groups of people function well.
Different from other strengths that could be cultivated by yourself, teamwork is all about others. Based on the findings of the character strengths in organizations, they found that individually focused strengths like creativity are unlikely to occur with other-focused strengths like teamwork.
Trust as a Core Ingredient
To build a strong team, trust is essential.
“Trust is a psychological state that implies positive expectations regarding the intentions, attitudes and behaviors of others towards oneself in situations that may imply some uncertainty or ambiguity.”
In the context of organizations, for example, we can look at trust in three different forms or stages:
- Trust based on an estimate: weighing the pros and cons of trust;
- Trust based on information: behavior is influenced by our previous experiences (positive and negative);
- Trust based on identification: we trust more readily in others with whom we identify.
We also know that an environment with low levels of trust will lead to:
- Contradictory information.
- Unmet expectations.
- A system with a higher level of control and vigilance.
Teamwork also requires the ability of facilitation. Business writer Tom Wujec found that when presenting groups with the “marshmallow challenge,” a simple team-building exercise that instructs people to build towers out of marshmallows, dried spaghetti, masking tape, and string, they scored much better if executive administrators were included.
“Because they have special skills of facilitation, they manage the process. They understand the process. Any team who manages and pays close attention to work will significantly improve the team’s performance” (Wujec, 2010).
Most of the time a team is simply a group of people working in the same office space. Each person has his or her own strengths and skills. Each could succeed and do great on their own.
Such a group needs a facilitator to ensure that each person’s skills are being utilized, and that they are working toward the same goal.