[May 05, 2015] A close friend of mine – intelligent and trustworthy – resigned as a commissioned officer in U.S. Army after being told he would never advance in rank. The reason was simple; he did not promote and was incapable of effective teamwork. It was a sad day for all of us Platoon Leaders (lieutenants in the Infantry), for he was a great guy. This was more than three decades ago … today, I see even fewer leaders who promote teamwork and that is an unfortunate trend.
Do we promote teamwork in the workplace? To answer this question, we must ask ourselves whether it is important to do so. Promoting teamwork is a time-tested method of achieving just about anything and that is why we see it primarily manifested in the military. A few military and business leaders will tell you today, however, that teamwork is out of fashion and that promoting it publicly will make their career’s difficult. This is hard to believe since there was a time, not that long ago, that those who were ineffective or an uncooperative team member would never advance or get additional responsibilities; just like my friend.
Being a team leader was a good thing; an admirable trait and a prerequisite for any leadership position, especially a prestigious job. To illustrate how far leaders have veered away from this long-held belief, some leaders advocate individual achievement over team achievement because they see the teamwork as bigoted, uneducated, and exploitive of old-fashioned values.
For those who study leadership, we know there are few downsides to teamwork and plenty to gain from its promotion. A few dissenters will disagree and argue that teamwork only leads to groupthink and stunted creativity. Such comments are grounded in socialist, academic theory and practice. Regardless of the anti-teamwork sentiments in academia, there is much to gain from promoting it. Teamwork gives a person pride in their coworkers, themselves, their families, and where they work. It also contains a specific set of values (e.g., honesty, hard work, charity) that are proven beneficial to everyone. These values have served humankind well and has greatly benefited individuals.
This trend toward less teamwork is one of the reason we see less respect for authority and less respect for others … and it’s toxic. Those who are educated in many of our finer universities are filled with the vision of the loner (or savior) who rides in to save the day without anyone else. These folks are over confident of their moral standing and have an unrealistic view of their own capabilities. Leaders who are not team players will fail; those who believe in teamwork as outdated will fail; and those who don’t promote teamwork will fail.
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