Extraordinary Team Blog

Teamwork Only Works as Well as Its Members

Posted by Kristin Arnold on July 16, 2009

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: “Teams don’t do real work.  Individuals do.”  Now, before you go crazy, hear me out:

Teams are great for making big and small agreements on how the work needs to be done.  Team members come together to plan and coordinate their individual work, establish goals and objectives, create new methods to do the work, evaluate how well they did, share information on what they have done….  I think you get the picture.

This is all important and necessary work.  But the “real work” gets done out on the plant floor, at your desk, or face to face with the customer.  It doesn’t get done in a team session.  We might do the work standing next to each other, but we typically take a “product” (either a physical product or an intangible product, such as a question), and then as individuals, add value to that product and deliver an “enhanced product” to our “customer” or teammate.

I really worry about “team mania” a workplace trend where everything must be done in a team setting.  It just isn’t so.  Unless your singular job is to plan, coordinate, and set team goals, you must balance your individual work with the team’s work.  If you spend over 50 percent of your time in team meetings, how can you ever get your work done?

Welcome to the “spillover” phenomenon.  We used to work 40 hours a week, now it’s up to 50, 60, and in some cases even more.  Some team members take work home “because I can get it done there.”  Teamwork should make us more efficient, not add to our already-full plates.

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is your team meeting too often/long for you to get your work done?
  2. Is your work “spilling over” into longer work hours or taking work home?

If your answer is “yes” to either of these two questions, take a serious look at your workload and priorities.  As a team, have a frank discussion about the relative importance of each task you do.  There is some “non-value added” work that needs to be taken off, rather than spilling over.

Question:  Is your work spilling over outside of the workplace?  If so, how can you and your team members solve this problem?

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