HR, Listen Up: Teamwork On The Job Is Overrated

Much of the rhetoric around human resources strategy involves the idea that working in a team is the key to succees. But in some cases, researchers say, it can even breed laziness.

"Bosses should think long and hard before creating another team"
"Bosses should think long and hard before creating another team"
Harald Czycholl

BERLIN — The successful candidate has to be a good team player who can fit seamlessly into the company’s dynamic team. This is the familiar notion found in virtually every employment ad these days.

But this team fetishism is also misleading. It has never been conclusively demonstrated that teamwork is particularly productive. In fact, the opposite appears to be true: It can demotivate workers and make them less inclined to perform.

And this is not a new revelation. In 1882, when French agricultural engineer Maximilian Ringelmann researched work efficiency in horses, oxen, machines and people, he found that the individual performance of men in groups when pulling loads was less significant than the performance each man would bring on his own.

Ringelmann had seven men pull on a rope, individually and then as a group. On their own the men pulled a weight of 85 kilograms (187 pounds), but in the group only 65 kilograms (143 pounds). In other words, teamwork cost nearly a fourth of performance capacity.

This phenomenon is known as the Ringelmann effect. But for a long time it was unclear whether it was really demotivation that decreased team performance relative to individual performance or whether perhaps it could be explained by logistical problems. For example, to pull a rope effectively as a group, each man has to find the perfect position enabling all his strength to be put at the service of the task. Less than optimum positions could actually mean team members were unwittingly working against each other.

The same potential kinds of problems also apply to teamwork at the office. When it is not made crystal clear what worker is responsible for which task on a project, the joint work effort suffers.

To discover more about the reasons for performance decline, American social psychologist Harry Ingham repeated the pulling experiments in 1974 — but with one small modification. This time, the eyes of the participants were covered while they pulled on the rope. They were asked to pull twice, once after being told they were doing so in a group, and once on their own. But both times, they were actually pulling alone.

This experiment settled the coordination argument because the result was the same as it had been a century earlier. Participants who believed they were part of a team pulled less hard. That was proof that people show less effort in a group than when they work solo — particularly when they can hide behind the anonymity of the group.

Teams make you lazy

The corruption of the idea of teamwork to really mean “great, somebody else will do it” is very real, and sociologists have even coined a term for it: “social laziness.”

“Social laziness mainly crops up with routine jobs,” says Christian Setzwein, managing director of Setzwein IT Management, a company specializing in project and interim management. “With more difficult jobs, individual performance tends to be higher — the individual feels protected by the group and not personally responsible.”

The phenomenon is particularly strong when each person’s role isn’t at all or is only a little discernible. In a group, “A person only makes a special effort when the results they’ve personally achieved have particular value to them,” Setzwein says.

This knowledge can be put to good use through solid leadership. “If the goal is a high-performance team, leadership can let team members know what responsibility they have for the overall effort,” Setzwein explains. He adds that individual contributions, especially if they are unusually creative or difficult, should be acknowledged.

“Teamwork is an important part of the modern job world,” says Götz Müller of the management consultant firm Geemco. “But it’s at least as important to acknowledge the individual effort within the team effort.”

Leadership should ensure that individual contributions are perceptible. “Although that doesn’t mean that it should be done in such a way as to create an artificial and unnecessary spirit of competition among team members,” Müller says. “What must especially be avoided is attributing successes and contributions to the wrong people.”

The expert recommends that team leaders set clear personal goals with team members. “Again with the stipulation that you don’t create an atmosphere of competition that has people thwarting each other,” Müller adds.

Interdisciplinary teams, where only one person is expert in a given discipline, lend themselves particularly well to this because each person’s contribtion can be easily measured.

Yet this praise of individual effort is taboo in many companies because what counts is the success of the team. People working in such companies have a choice: Either they take it easy, with the understanding that not doing much can be stressful in its own way — not to mention boring — or they can insist on working within a team whose results are in some way measurable.

But it’s clear that bosses should think long and hard before creating another team.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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