Somehow, after a few glasses of wine on Friday night, I found myself in a discussion about teams. My friend, a very accomplished and successful business owner, believes that there are no true teams in a business context – that everyone is inherently selfish and does what’s best for them. Naturally, my first instinct was to disagree. We didn’t continue the conversation to its conclusion as it was that good sort of evening where more amusing topics out-trump the ‘heavy’ ones. But it did get me thinking – could he be right??

The concept of teams comes from sport, where the common goal is extremely clear (or should be, putting betting scandals to one side…). I’m talking about football, rugby, hockey – the kind of sport where each team member is reliant on each of the others to play their role effectively to gain the optimum result. In these ‘true’ teams, selfish play is unhelpful and more likely than not to negatively impact the final result.

When we talk about teams in a business context, we typically either mean a group of people working together on a specific project, an area of business (what used to be called a ‘division’ perhaps) or a “management team”. It seems to me that some of these teams are ‘truer’ than others.

Teams working on a project are both working to a common goal and tend to be interdependent – for example, if one person misses a deadline, this could have a knock-on effect that impacts the whole project. Selfish behaviour in this context would be the opposite of what you see in sport ie. not doing stuff instead of doing too much (hogging the ball). But the result would be the same – the failure of the team. In project work, an individual team member may have to put aside something they would rather be doing to accomplish tasks that will keep the project on track.

At the other end of the scale, is this necessarily the case when we talk about a management team? The common goal here tends to be either a revenue or profit target. As each manager may head up a separate division, they would be expected to maximize the financial results of their area, which would be expected to benefit the final company result. So, in this circumstance, selfish behaviour may have no impact or even benefit the final performance of the management team. Where there are clashes of interest – for example, the Ops or Finance Directors driving costs down at the expense of quality or new developments – then the Chief Exec is there to take the decisions and set priorities. So, with so few interdependencies between team members, in what way is this actually a team, rather than a group of people getting on with their jobs?

I put this out there as food for thought. My current state of thinking is that ‘true’ teams need to have some degree of interdependency. As for being selfish, perhaps we all are. Everything we do gives us something, even if it is for our soul only and not apparent to anyone else. So the trick in business is to make each team member want to do what they need to do in order to meet the team objective.

Ultimately, the selfish sports player will not build a successful career unless the team wins games!

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