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Is a Team Always the Best Option?

May 23, 2016

Earlier today I had a conversation with a co-worker around the question, “Is teamwork always the best option?”

For someone who spends a lot of time researching, reading, and teaching on teams, this could be a scary question. Does the idea that   team effort is greater than solitary effort always ring true?  My co-worker and I discussed how solitary effort may prove easier, more productive, or more efficient in some situations. Therefore, should we always push people toward the “team” ideal?  Is a team always the best option?

As we talked and I thought through the question a little more, I came to some conclusions:

  1. The answer is both “yes” and “no.” Sometimes it makes more sense to tackle tasks or projects individually rather than as a team. Purely from an efficiency perspective it makes sense to divide and conquer. This is largely due to the fact that
  2. Group consensus is not always the best route for decision-making.  Does the phrase “paralysis by analysis” ring any bells?  Teams are often challenged by disagreements on process and implementation; differing perspectives can end up causing more frustration than progress. The struggle is then found in attempting to work together, rather than working on the project.  This idea lends credence to
  3. A strengths-based mentality toward teams.  Several researchers/writers, notably Marcus Buckingham and Tom Rath, have advocated for a strengths approach to team building and function.  Simplified, it is the idea that you should focus on your strengths, shoring up your weaknesses only to the point that they are not a hindrance.  With a diverse group of individuals focused on strengths, a cohesive, well-rounded, and balanced team can be formed.  To help this diverse group function well, sometimes it is necessary to
  4. Do something as a team that you might be able to do alone.  Often practicing teamwork on seemingly easy tasks can help prepare a group to function as a team on more challenging projects later.  The greater value can actually be found in learning to work together, rather than in the accomplishment of the task.

The amalgamated message of the above ideas supports the concept that a mature team is marked by understanding when solitary work is to be preferred over teamwork.  Sometimes choosing to work alone may actually be a higher form of teamwork.  It can be evidence of an understanding of team strengths, clear role definition, and a strong foundation of trust.

Do you sometimes get frustrated when you feel forced to work together?  Do you fear working alone?  Do you and your team know how to deal with these two situations?

Where does your team stand?