Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Can you work alone or do you need the power of a group to protect you?

I was reading the comments in the previous post and saw one by Kevin M. that got me thinking about working alone vs. working in a team, and which one is better. Kevin M says:

If I had kids, I'd tell them the smartest thing they could do is avoid working in large groups or corporations. Teamwork is horsesh*t today; you have more to worry about your coworkers than someone in a dark alley. Michael Crichton called it perfectly in his novel Disclosure.

If I were to use a word to characterize the next 30 years of American economics, it would be "mercenary." Our kids are going to have to learn to look out for themselves more than our parents ever did. It's getting predatory out there.

As a psychologist, many of my classes and graduate work focused on helping people learn to be more social with others. Though in one more enlightened class at the New School for Social Research, we debated whether man was really a social animal or not. Was it okay to be a hermit? Honestly, in today's world, I am thinking the answer might be "yes." Or at least working independently if you are the type who does well with that.

The problem is, that on an individual level, working alone or with just a few trusted others can be more rewarding and profitable, but on the other hand, big groups seem to have more power and often take over small groups of people and render them powerless. For example, look at what is happening to small business today. They are being regulated and taxed to death, while bigger groups such as big business and government work together to screw them. The Tea Parties are a way for disparate small groups of people to come together into a bigger group that has more power. I think people can do okay on an individual level but the society will lose out if we all keep to ourselves.

What do you think, can you make it okay in today's world working alone completely or in a small group or do you think it necessary to bond with, and work with others to keep from losing our rights and freedoms?


Blogger Cham said...

I like working alone, I also don't mind being a leader. I detest being a member of a team. What I have found with teams is that 60% of the team will do 100% of the work. There will be other members of the team that will be way to busy with other important projects, or will be too sick with "pain" or "stress", or are too busy parenting their children (and we all know that kids come first). Those that don't do any work won't say they aren't going to do any work, that will just be revealed when there is a deadline where someone else is going to have to jump in at the very last minute to perform the uncompleted tasks, i.e, me.

But, wait, there's is more. Once the project is completed and successful, the individual that will take full credit for its success will be the part of the 40% that did no work at all. Teams suck.

8:56 AM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the more obvious dangers of our capitalist system is that it allows everyone to rationalize almost any kind of behavior as long as it leads to a better profit margin. The health insurance industry is a topical example, but one can find antisocial behavioe built into the system just about everywhere.

9:03 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Larry J said...

I work in a small team that's part of a large corporation. Our work is highly specialized so it isn't possible for someone else in the corporation to take over our work. Within our team, we divide into smaller teams to accomplish projects. Most teams have from two to six people. We find this works well - no one individual is likely to know everything necessary to accomplish the project while larger teams are less productive.

Small teams are the way to go. At a recent meeting with our customers, I told them that "a meeting's productivity is inversely proportional to the number of attendees. Get a few knowledgeable people together and you can solve almost any problem. Get more than 10 people together and you can't even agree on what you want for lunch." They discusses among themselves many of the meetings they have to attend and realized I was right.

9:10 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger David Foster said...

There have always been conflicts among co-workers, whether in a Venetian trading company in 1500, a weaving shop in pre-Industrial England, or American microchip company in 1963.

When conflicts reach a toxic level, the fault is basically always with whoever is supposed to be managing/leading the organization. There can be failures to organize the work properly (small teams with accountability, for instance), to recognize the true performers, to take action against harmful individuals, etc etc. I think probably people who gained most of their management knowledge from formal education are usually less likely to perform these tasks effectively than those with more extensive practical experience.

9:31 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Ern said...

What Cham said corresponds with my experience; I'd say that, if anything, the 60% estimate of who does the work is too high.

The biggest problem that I've had with teams or larger organizations is the presence of people who are actually hindrances, whose productivity is actually negative.

I've been self-employed for the past nine years, and I like it a lot. I don't get all my income from any one source, which allows me to fire clients whom I don't like, and I work at or close to my highest value nearly all the time. It's very rewarding.

10:28 AM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some projects require team work. Try raising a barn or building a Hydroelectric damn by yourself. I agree that the larger the team, the larger share of dead weight the team carries. I also agree with Dave that this is a management issue. Poor management leads to all sorts of unproductive practices.

Many tasks require a second set of hands, some do not.

I wonce did a group project in college. I was not part of a group, so I hunkered down and did it myself. But I found I could not turn it in, because there weren't enough authors ont eh coverpage. I had to actively recruit a deadwood co-author just to get any credit for the work I had already compelted. His only contribution was literally his name on the cover.

10:54 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

I've found work teams from my adulthood to be a lot like middle school group projects - the work is "delegated" to a sucker while the rest of them loaf and then they call themselves a success.

There's a reason "The Office" and "Dilbert" are wildly popular.

I've noticed if a team is larger than four people, there's going to be more complication in organizing the team that is usually not worth the extra labor. There was a book on software engineering called "The Mythical Man-Month" which noted that two people don't produce twice as much work as one, because the team now has to communicate and be managed which slows down the process. Of course, some projects can't be done by one person, period, so management is a requirement.

Conscientious people take on the work because it needs to be done, and properly political people have ways of making sure the right people know who did the actual work. But there's lots of chaff in white-collar "teamwork."

10:56 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

I find it sadly funny how even today in my late 20's, so many meetings and group assignments operate like playground games. The key factor is that the appearance of leadership is more important than actual leadership - the "system" prizes whoever is puffed-up enough to boss other people around. It also prizes extroverts. Like the NFL officiating replay review, the first idea to be thrown out is automatically assumed to be a sound, credible one, and anyone who proposes another one has to convince the group why first idea is deeply flawed, not just that there are other possibilities.

It's like people don't really want to think or make decisions, just do what somebody tells them to...wait a minute, maybe I'm on to something...

11:00 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger David Foster said...

Mergers/acquisitions/divestitures add a lot of complexity and opportunities for gamesmanship. A woman who worked for me described the typical merger as like the meeting of two dogs:

1)They eagerly run up to check each other out
2)There is a lot of snarling as each strives to establish dominance
3)Once this is done, they happily run around togehter

But if the structure changes happen too frequently, people rarely get to Stage 3, and the snarling never stops.

11:09 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

Fortunately, after about thirty, I was almost always team leader. Even so, I always took some form of printout to the weekly meetings indicating the things I'd accomplished solo. Requested or not.

Never let some pinhead take your credit and never, ever take credit that isn't yours.

This is in IT. No claims as to it's working elsewhere.

11:33 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Helen, et al.
RE: Well....

....can you make it okay in today's world working alone completely or in a small group or do you think it necessary to bond with, and work with others to keep from losing our rights and freedoms? -- Dr. Helen we say in the Army, "It all depends on the situation."

On one hand, I can work by myself MUCH better than working with others in developing a database or stand-alone application. However, if said database/application NEEDS other people, I HAVE to work WITH them in order to make it work properly FOR them.

On the other hand, if it's a 'group effort' in the first place, it needs a good leader. After all, nothing effective has ever come from a committee. Committees are good for developing a plan. Not implementation of said plan.

On the third hand....

....try running for political office without the help of some 'others'.


[Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. -- John Adams]

11:48 AM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger tomcal said...

I prefer to with a small but highly competent team because the interaction with other people helps me to maintain my focus; and generally I feel happier around other people.

But in this day and age you have to be able to walk in both worlds. I recently completed a land deal (it only took 14 years!) with a company that insists on having meetings about when to have meetings.

To get the job done I had to be able to work with their system, even though it drove me nuts. At the end, it was pretty obvious that only 2 of the 15 people they had involved were doing much of anything. So I would attend all of the meetings but privately just deal with those 2.

Now that it is all over, though, I kind of miss all of them.

12:39 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Tomcall
RE: Get Thee...

I prefer to with a small but highly competent team because the interaction with other people helps me to maintain my focus; and generally I feel happier around other people. -- Tomcall an Army Recruiter. Ask to go Special Fecees.


[Jesus had a twelve-man A-Team....You'll have one too, Oh Lordy -- Special Fecess 'spiritual'.]

12:59 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

Unless you are entirely self-employed, you must work with other people. For larger companies, teamwork is essential. Unfortunately, what teamwork actually is and what modern society says it is are two wildly different things.

In it's purest sense, teamwork is like a squad of soldiers, each of whom has a specific job, does it well and communicates that which is necessary to teammates and other teams. Above all, their job is to get the mission done. If that means banging heads of squad members or hurting feelings, so be it.

In modern society, teamwork means kissing people's asses, not hurting feelings, emoting with each other, sitting around and singing kumbaya. Heaven forbid you actually tell a coworker to get off his ass and actually do his job. Even worse, don't disagree with those in management, even if YOU are the expert and being paid and acknowledged as such.

Kevin M is right in one thing--the number of punks and no nothings that will stab you in the back cannot be counted. And never underestimate the cruelty of that betrayal--you will be lied to, lied about, falsely accused of things.

The answer is that you can never trust a colleague without great justification and even then, you must always be guarded.

The single biggest problem are MBAs. MBA programs are a joke. They don't teach you shit about "administration" and fool you into thinking they do. Companies buy into this crap and hire these jokers, who then override people with actual experience and fuck things up in general. (Watching punk ass twenty somethings think they know than people twice their age is annoying as hell.)

I won't even get into the second problem since it's become the true third rail of modern discourse.

1:02 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger tomcal said...


I'm too old or I probably would!

1:04 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger tomcal said...


Stop holding back!

1:06 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I prefer to primarily work alone. I can work at my own pace and in my own style.

We have "teams" for research projects where I work. Pretty much their effectiveness is at the same level as the Account Executive's and/or the Account Manager's competence which can vary quite a bit.

My department is a team of programmers working individually on different projects. But, since we confer with each other regularly on problems we're facing and help each other out, we're a strong, effective team. For a large part, the more formally recognized teams operate as Joe describes.

When I think of teams, I think of committees and this quote, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee."

1:25 PM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:46 PM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:50 PM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:00 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

IMHO, working as a small business, alone or in loose consortia, is the best way to work. This style of work is interesting and flexible. It was once a good way to make a living.

Not any more. The government vastly over taxes and over regulates the employment market. The government encourages companies to favor foreign workers and outsourcing. The government protects large businesses from dumping of foreign subsidized products, but fails to protect US workers from foreign workers who's education and job training was 100% subsidized.

America is a crony capitalist state. It's capitalism for the little guy, and socialism for the big guy. That makes it tough to work as an independent.

So, all in all: go Galt. Until the government stops favoring illegal immigrants, favoring foreign workers, paying companies to outsource, using your tax money to build factories in China and Brazil - until then, deny the system your productivity.

Take your leisure. Let the government sort it out.

2:48 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Miller Thomas Smith said...

Allow group work to occur when individuals have the need of more resources than just themselves. Allow groups to form voluntarily and spontaneously.

This is not an either/or problem.

At my work, most of the action is individual service to a customer where another person doing the job as a group would slow things down. My product is needed by other individuals and I need theirs as well, so when the product flow is distrubed, we join at points of problems as groups to solve the problem so we can all work better as individuals to service the customer.

All of this is done on our own accord without being assgined by management to get together. We are held responsible for the outcomes, so we look to see what problems others can cause us and deal with it in a timely fashion.

2:56 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Ryan Haag said...

As a small business owner, I'd say teamwork is needed if you want to be above subsistence. You can (and should) be able to live on your own, if by living you mean eating, breathing, and taking care of your basic needs.

After that though, you'll need a team. I've been on extremely effective teams, where everyone was motivated by the end goal. If people cared about credit, or who was in charge, it tended to break down.

I couldn't run a jewelry business without an artist, photographer, website maintainer, and other specialists. Now, I've fired people until I built a team I like. Maybe if you're in a company where you can't fire people, I could understand hating teamwork. Barring that, you'll always accomplish more with a good team.

4:50 PM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:10 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Misanthrope said...

I seem to recall a motivational work poster along the lines of "There is no 'I' in team, but there is an 'm' and an 'e'."

I like to point out there is an 'I' in win however. Quite simply, teams are next to useless for most tasks. Especially when team work is credited for accomplishments the team can't possibly have control over. This happens frequently at my current employer.

I have a dream, of working somewhere that is actually well managed.

8:22 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Methadras said...

I've been a 'merc' now for nearly 25 years. I've worked at corporations and start-ups for a long, long time as a contract Mechanical Engineer. I've had my own product design and development company as a one man show. I hate working in groups where I have to deal with other people and their pedantic ideas. Oh sure, some might come through with an insight or two that might solve a problem, but for the most part, I'm a man who wants to be given the football and be allowed to run to the end zone. Everyone else just gets in my way.

Management in most corporations have been taken over by team building douche-baggery that illicit nothing more than finding ways of getting out of the drudgery of what you are doing so you can get a couple of hours of down time in the land of monotony to listen to some perky team builder talk about how team members can contribute to each others success. This is all bullshit. All of it. Everyone is expendable and blamable. If someone in my 'team' screws up the whole team is credited with that. If an individual within the team comes through with a save, then the whole team is credited. Remember that stupid bullshit in grade school about how sharing is caring or some other nonsensical tripe. You wanted to be on that swing all by yourself, but little Johnny or Jane wanted to have some time on it too. My first thought was, "Hey, I got here first, piss off..." but oh no, the teacher would come and tell me that I had to share with the other kids all kinds of things. I learned over my lifetime so far that this is bullshit. It's the same with adulthood and the work force. I don't want to share my success outside of the people I care about and if I screw up, then I'm the one that either gets to fix it or find somewhere else to work. But if I win, which is most of the time, I want the credit, not given to people who didn't contribute.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm more of an individualist. I don't believe in the team when it comes to my own liability to make as much money as possible for myself. Its my fate, so why should I leave it in the hands of other people who might end up being incompetent? I think we've all worked at places where incompetence sometimes reigns supreme, from a coworker to a manager or executive and yet you see utter incompetence rewarded. It's like watching shit roll uphill.

If I worked with like minded people that I thought were on my level, I don't think I'd have a problem with that. At this point, that isn't the case.

8:57 PM, March 03, 2010  
Blogger Methadras said...

God Of Bacon said...

One of the more obvious dangers of our capitalist system is that it allows everyone to rationalize almost any kind of behavior as long as it leads to a better profit margin. The health insurance industry is a topical example, but one can find antisocial behavioe built into the system just about everywhere.

In live we are told to not cheat, lie, or steal and yet it's done in the business world constantly on almost every level. And those that follow the rules are rewarded for their honesty and integrity right? Really? I'm not arguing that people should skip to the dark side and chuck their integrity to the winds to make a buck, but at a certain point you see who is making the lions share of the cash and who is left holding the bag, and you know, deep down inside that they most likely didn't get it doing it "the right way" and instead wonder how many throats got slit and how many balls got stepped on to make it happen. These people seem to sleep at night just fine. I can too, but one has to ask how they can get a larger slice of that cake for themselves while these cheaters at life can eat a little humble pie. Would I give up who I am to get ahead monetarily so I can sit back fat and happy for a long long time? Only if the price was right, but so far that won't be happening in my industry anytime soon. Even still if the situation presented itself I might balk at the chance.

It's like that movie Indecent Proposal that generated so much buzz when it came out because of the moral dilemma that it presented. Now extend that premise into the business world and watch what happens. Oh wait, it happens all the time. Stunner.

9:06 PM, March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:03 AM, March 04, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Methadras, et al.
RE: Teams

Remember that stupid bullshit in grade school about how sharing is caring or some other nonsensical tripe. -- Methadras

It's kind of funny, BUT, I'm reminded of a 'Field Problems Test' USWEST put my division through as a 'team-building' exercise.

The Problem: Get from one side of an [imaginary] obstacle, i.e., a moat designated by a rope, to the other side using some rope, some boards and a few cinder blocks. To bring all the equipment across with you. And a limited amount of time in which to accomplish the task.

The Situation: No one was designated the 'leader' in any of the three groups attempting to succeed at the task from three different points around the moat.

The obvious committee arguments immediately began, until someone realized that none of the groups had sufficient equipment to bridge the obstacle. However, if they pooled their equipment, they could succeed. So someone went to the other groups and got them to cooperate: bringing their team-members and resources to a central location.

Then the committee arguments began again. BUT the clock was ticking away and time to accomplish the task was running out.

Someone else said, "I've seen this problem before. Here's what we need to do....." And began to explain the solution. He then began telling people to do things, e.g., "Bob, you get some people together and start building a bridge with this stuff."

At this point the 'lane graders' decided we were doing too well and started designating people as 'casualties', e.g., this one is 'blind', that one has a 'broken leg', etc.

Another team was 'told off' to get people together to help these casualties across the bridge that was now half-way finished.

The bridge finally complete, except you had to jump three feet to get across. We begin moving the casualties across.

Once they are across we begin dissmantalling the bridge and have a team passing the parts to the other side.

With just seconds to spare, the last piece is pulled over. And we 'succeed'.

At the after action review, people whine that they weren't consulted for their opinion on how to accomplish the task. The lane graders look at the guy who took charge and ask, "How do you respond to that?"

To which the guy replies, "We succeeded."

What's the point?

Teams are essential for any complex and/or time-sensitive task. However, they need leaders and not committee group-think in order to succeed.


[There may be no 'I' in 'team', but there sure as Hell had better be a competent leader.]

9:13 AM, March 04, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience during military training. This one involved math to find a solution (something I was good at). The leader was clueless and wanted to solve the problem using team effort, collecting everyone's ideas, assessing the information, brainstorming, etc. When it was my turn to "contribute" I just told them the answer. Teams hate that.

10:24 AM, March 04, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

There's no "we" in team either.

12:08 PM, March 04, 2010  
Blogger Cham said...

I have a team story that will amuse the masses.

I enjoy photographing birds at a bird sanctuary. There is pond out in the wetlands that attracts the great blue herons. It was filled with plastic garbage. The garbage was detracting in my photos. So I addressed the situation with the sanctuary manager and he suggested that I attend volunteer clean-up day so that I could rid the pond shore of the trash.

So the day came and I was told that in order to participate I had to sign up on a clean-up team. The sanctuary manager told me to play by the rules, sign up for a team but once the day started to concentrate on the pond. So I did. At the end of 3 hours I had picked up 4 giant trash bags of plastic trash, I was pretty pleased with myself.

As I was moving the trash bags a ponytailed woman with a clipboard approached me and she didn't seem too happy, she was the volunteer coordinator. She asked me why I wasn't working with my team. So I explained about the pond, the pictures and my special deal with the sanctuary manager and showed her all my trash bags. She grew very angry and said in her best Darth Vader voice: "There is no I in Team."

The only response I could think of at the moment was, "No shit Sherlock."

Then she replied, "Get out"

And now you know why I am permanently banned from the local bird sanctuary forever.

1:11 PM, March 04, 2010  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Cham, et al.
RE: A Classic....

And now you know why I am permanently banned from the local bird sanctuary forever. -- Cham

...example of the truism....

No good deed goes unpunished.


[When you do a good deed, get a receipt, in case heaven is like the IRS.]

1:39 PM, March 04, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I learned long ago it is best to out-stupid such people. It is much easier (on you) to claim you got lost, didn't know the rules, or couldn't find your group. You could also try offering (sincerely) to put the trash back. Volunteer coordinaters are used to dealing with clueless people and won't want to waste much of their valuable time explaining things to you.

Or you can do it your way.

10:54 AM, March 05, 2010  
Blogger Cham said...

Hale: I'm thoroughly capable of being nice and polite. What I should have done was knock her teeth out. I'm very sorry I didn't.

4:14 PM, March 05, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stories Cham told above, and the varied stories from others are directly applicable to the overall demise of our nation in my opinion. Seriously. The comments above are case in point why I have always preferred to live and die by my own sword.

And as was also stated by Cham, I am of the belief the 80 / 20 rule has indeed become the 60 / 40 rule, and continues in a downward spiral. I have a boss who accomplishes little at best. However, he is very good at raining on parades and stealing the thunder of others. He steals others' accomplishments, claiming them as his own to tell the owners, while belittling and bad mouthing the real achievers to those same individuals.

Rush made a statement on his show recently, perhaps Friday, that the Obama administration is actively "managing the decline" of the U.S. I would only like to add my belief both houses are also fully involved.

7:30 AM, March 07, 2010  

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