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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Debating Team Work

There is an old saying that sometimes you have to take one of the team, what do we really mean and understand by this expression that has been said repeatedly by millions over the decades? This expression has been used in every day life ranging from school life to professional life to the field of competitive sports. It implies that at times, in order for the good or even benefit of your team sometimes you have to make sacrifices, be it big or small. I am guessing this is where this expression comes from, where being patient and making the odd compromise for the team so that the team benefits. In sports, be it cricket, baseball or football, we often see players for the sake of their teams indulge in selfless acts to prove that they are team players as opposed to individualistic super stars.

In sports like football or basketball, the most famous sports persons are always those that have a lot to show for through their individual effort. This comes in the form of goals scored in football and slam dunks (I do hope this is the correct expression) in basketball, where the star players are those with the highest of these in their respective sport. Attention of the same magnitude is hardly given to those individuals within the same team who make the extra ordinary effort of those individuals possible. The top goal scorers in football or point scorers in basketball would not be able to make their effort possible without the support of the entire team and its effort, it all begins with the first person with possession passing the ball, which eventually heads to the star player that eventually makes the goal or the slam dunk.

Collective team work is is also very evident in the sub continent's most famous sport 'Cricket', where champion batsmen and bowlers who have records to brag about, would not be in the record books without support from the other end. For example, batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting would not have been able to stack up all these runs if batsmen on the other end kept faltering and not supporting them in partnerships, same goes for bowlers like Brett Lee and Wasim Akram, who had reliable opening ball partners who kept the runs dry while they brought down the opposition wickets. Every weak and strong link contributes to team and individual effort, they are there to compliment one another one. These star cricketers would not have been able to compile records if other team members decided to be selfish and pursue their own agenda, their own targets, goals etc. A bowler who doesn't take many wickets or batsmen that do not score a lot of runs are still making a contribution to make the star performers get what they want. Some are playing under injury or poor physical form just to be there with their team mates and make a difference even with their minimal contributions.

So this tempts us to come back to the original question, does it really merit making sacrifices and taking one for the team, for the time being, this question remains inconclusive and worthy of further debate.

Collectivism and Individualism in Group Dynamics

It seems academics in the field of management sciences are obsessed with the study of culture, particularly the aspects of individualism and collectivism. Both these variables vary significantly over different cultures, some cultures are regarded as very individualistic in nature such as European cultures particular low context European cultures such as Britain and Germany, on the other hand Asian cultures such as that of Japan and Korea are regarded as cultures that are very collective in nature. Individualism in a culture implies focus on individual achievements, ambitions self and possessions, while collectivism as seen in Asian cultures implies that the combined welfare of a group, a team or a community is more important than the singular individuals in the group, and in most cases, the welfare is extended to include everyone in the group. From Consumer behavior in marketing to Human Resource Management, it seems everyone wants to understand this mechanism to get an idea of how we as human beings behave, and whether our exposure to individualism or collectivism affects us, and also our ability to adapt coming from one culture as opposed to another.
Individualism may have brought significant prosperity to the world, but had collectivism been a redundant concept it would have long died out. It's importance is still very prominent in today's world as without the pursuit of greater good, it is due to the understood importance of collectivism that even in cultures known for their individualism, human beings are put in situations where they have to work as a team or as a group collectively. Be it working in a group assignment at university level or be it in the practical world.
The purpose of putting individual human beings in a group or a team as opposed to pushing individual work is to encourage collectivism and stimulate group dynamics. In all its essence, when human beings are put together in a team, their expected to show some degree of collectivism, team work and emotional empathy towards other members of the group. Part of the purpose is to balance out the human drive towards individualism and apathy that exists in some cultures. In other words, when members of a group resort to individualism and lack of emotional empathy instead of following a collective approach, it not only serves to kill the purpose behind group work, but can result in a break down of collective effort and communication.
Breakdown in communication among groups and teams is not uncommon and has been occurring since the concept of team work dawned on the human civilization. In theory when people work in teams and groups, their differing personalities and approaches are meant to serve to compliment one another as opposed to create friction, but in reality that is not always the case. Individual goals, ambitions, targets and efforts can distort one's reality of working in a group and collectivism starts gradually diminishing. Each team has its strong and weak links, and it is collectivism within the group if approached properly that manages to make the strengths and weaknesses compliment each other, which otherwise would be nothing more than a source of friction. To create synergy within the group, a start to every collective effort would begin with understanding of what real collectivism is, and how it distinguishes itself from individualism in a team setting.