Individualism in Business

“There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM, but there is a ‘Me’ if you look closely.”Ricky Gervais

At the risk of starting another sport blog-spat, I want to start by saying that I watched the English rugby team beat the French group and reflected on how often it is we see groups beaten, who, at least on paper, “shouldn’t be.” On the pitch, they are beaten by a team effort because they can’t collaborate. My thought here is that, in the absence of a strong sense of collective aspiration, individualism kills collective effort, which, in turn, spoils the result. Is there any learning here for business leaders? We all talk the talk on the importance of good teamwork. But just how prevalent is it in our respective organisations?

We seem to live in an age of increasing comfort and selfishness. Most of us are fortunate enough to be hovering nearer the top of Maslow’s hierarchy than the bottom. Yet we live in a society that seems to value celebrities more than teams. Prima donnas more than grafters. Individualism more than cooperative effort. The media try hard to turn team efforts into the individual virtuoso performances. Count how many post match/event interviews are spent with the interviewee shying away from the accolades and reminding the reporter that it was a team effort? Are we witnessing the sound-biting of performance? Is the neat icon/success package the only good story? Is great teamwork poor press?

It seems increasingly rare to find a true business “team.” (Dys) functional reporting groups appear to be much more common. The more senior the group, the less likely they are to be collaborative. The old adage of “No one wins on a losing team” does not seem to be true in the boardroom.

What are the drivers of this willing acceptance of mediocrity? Do we trade results for an ego boost? Does a need for control force us to inhibit the threat of collaborative effort? Did we get to be senior managers for being individualistic? Will we only collaborate when there are more serious threats than most of us face every day? Will individual interest and greed always win … ??? Investing in process and systems improvement feels more reassuringly tangible than investing in talent, it seems. An SAP R4 ERP system feels more likely to deliver ROI than “teamwork development.” Even though the stats on ROI for ERP implementation are frightening, they are more tangible than the “soft” stuff.

Are managers just unaware how much better their organisations could be performing, so that they consequently fail to pay attention to the development of the team?

Should I buy SAP or invest in my team? Please give me some investment advice!

Chris Nel posted this on October 23, 2007, in Talent.
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