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The sum of us

August 22, 2010

There’s this image in my head of two little girls standing on the wall of their backyard, facing a large bush that has grown over into their garden. One of the girls has a machete in her hand and chops the left side of the bush. She then hands over the machete. The other girl in turn, chops the right side of the bush.

Determined and with steady hands, the two girls tackle the bush, working their way around to the centre. After a while they jump off the wall, back into the yard, to admire their handy work.

In a good team, the sum of us will always achieve far more than each of us separately.

The sum of us equals results.


My sister and I couldn’t have been much older than, respectively ten and twelve. She’s left-handed and I’m right. And the chopping of that bush is my first conscious perception of the perfect complementary teamwork.

Here I go again

As one who regularly works as a temp; I’m often recruited to re-enforce a team on specific projects. And as it is, I often find myself in situations where permanent co-workers somehow feel they have to compete with me.

Whether it’s a case of them feeling either threatened by a temp or the current job market and the question of how I keep stumbling into the same scenario over and over again; I leave up to the psychoanalysts among you to figure out. Fact is I’m at that place again.

In Power to the True Team I recount a similar incident where in the end the competitiveness and the distrust it nurtures, takes its toll on the result of the work. My hope back then was —and still is now— that this type of ‘teamwork’ would gradually make itself obsolete. No such luck.

The Prisoner’s dilemma

Simply because sadly enough, there are still colleagues out there who believe that sharply elbowing yourself into the picture is the way to go in a team. You’d think that after seeing Gordon Gekko and Bud Fox (Wallstreet – 1987), they’d know better.

Howard Rheingold describes this as the old way of thinking: colleagues who actually believe that teamwork is war and only the fiercest survive. The game: “Politics at all costs”.

In his near 20 minutes TED Talk, Rheingold discusses why this old way of thinking in fact undermines the team and the work to be done. With it arises social dilemmas.

Whether it’s part of the organisation’s culture or not; teamwork also embodies some sort of fairness. There are boundaries we all innately feel that team players can’t cross without consequences. Without consequences for the team; without consequences for the work (aka project) and ultimately without consequences for the organisation.

Rheingold compares this dilemma to The Prisoner’s dilemma. The Prisoner’s dilemma —in our particular scenario— is a fundamental social problem, where people don’t collaborate even if it’s in their own best interest and in the best interest of the work, to do so.

The outcome is predictable: we lose on all counts.

True teamwork: The sum of us

Chopping that bush with my sister defines my collaborative core. It’s an image that always springs to mind, whenever I embark on projects with others and it lays down my expectations of a team. True teamwork to me implies the mutual understanding that together we achieve far more better results than each one of us separately.

When will the highly competitive co-worker (aka egoistical dinosaur) get this?
And —key question— do project managers care enough to want to put together a well-balanced group of true team players?

Related post(s) to read:

Power to the True Team
Let me colour you…
Chemistry & Allergy

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