I Have A Problem With Teamwork

by | Jul 15, 2018

Ever since my childhood days, I rarely participated in events which involved intense group work or brainstorming with other people. I used to despise my teachers who would drag me into group activities in school. My quiet behavior was not considered cool, and my fellow classmates thought I was either arrogant, aloof or an ignorant schmuck who doesn’t know anything.

This continued till my adulthood, especially during my medical school where we were assigned into groups, given a patient, and had to discuss his/her problem among ourselves. I never felt comfortable, rarely contributed anything during these sessions, and would rather love doing things at my own pace. In reality, I was neither an arrogant asshole nor an ignorant schmuck. I actually liked to work in solitude and took my time to complete any task, which made me more productive. However, after much contemplation, I had decided that the world was simply not designed for me and eventually, made peace with myself working in teams when necessary; despite not really being comfortable with the whole idea of teamwork.

Fortunately, after reading ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain, I realized that I’m not alone. The book asserts that Introverts, for most part, don’t contribute much in teamwork, as they work better alone, which gives them a lot of space for thinking and generating ideas. As an introvert, I felt relatable and my immediate thought was, “Finally, someone understands me!”. But it’s appalling how the world favors teamwork.

Swasthya Swaraj, my current organization, has an open work-space office. With the exception of staff meetings or any other important meets, I try my absolute best to avoid that place because I never felt productive in such an environment. The concept of open works-pace office structure was a product of a contemporary phenomenon. Susan calls it ‘The New Group-think’ which believes that teamwork is above everything else. It insists that creativity and intellectual achievement come from a gregarious, collaborative setting.

Most of the corporate sector and even the third sector, to an extent, are its strongest advocates. In fact, the advocacy is so omnipresent that various office work-space architecture firms design the open work space offices to encourage collaborative work environment. A survey found that 91% of high-level managers believe that teams are the key to success. Does this mean teamwork really helps solve problems and give way to innovation Apparently not!

A study on groups of expert violinists by research psychologist Anders Ericsson proved that it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in ‘Deliberate Practice’, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach and therefore, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress and revise accordingly. Ericcson further stresses that Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone, as it takes intense concentration and requires deep motivation, which is often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that’s challenging to you personally. Only when you’re alone, you know what’s challenging for you.

If teamwork doesn’t actually help one solve problems, why do people stress on it so much? Well, thanks to Alex Osborn, an advertising executive who invented the concept of ‘Brainstorming’ in the first half of 20th century. He passionately believed that groups, once freed from the shackles of social judgment; produced more and better ideas than individuals working in solitude. His four main rules of brainstorming are:

  1. Don’t judge or criticize ideas.
  2. Be freewheeling. The wilder the idea, the better.
  3. Go for quantity. The more ideas you have, the better
  4. Build on the ideas of fellow group members.

This concept was embraced by the corporate organizations, and nearly every organization uses it till date. However, multiple research studies since past 40 years proved that brainstorming doesn’t actually work. According to the psychologists, three main reasons for its failure are:

  1. Social loafing: In a group, some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work.
  2. Production blocking: Only one person can talk or produce an idea at once, while the other group members are forced to sit passively.
  3. Evaluation apprehension: The fear of looking stupid in front of one’s peers.

If I apply these in my life, I have suffered from Production Blocking and Evaluation Apprehension for a hell lot of years. It was just recently that I started speaking up but I know many people who suffer from all three. It’s just not everyone’s cup of tea, specially if you’re an introvert.

Does this mean that I have developed hatred for teamwork? I would say my answer was yes, until my experience in the UK where I had volunteered with an NGO, and also took part in debate sessions at my university. They made sure that everyone speaks up. No one was left out. The British, irrespective of their introvert or extrovert traits, were extremely patient. The concept of interrupting when someone is talking was actually frowned upon. The work-spaces had an extremely relaxed vibe; which made me more comfortable and assertive,the privacy and flexible working hours are designed to make ourselves more productive.

Lastly, the UK experience taught me that if you’re willing to create a team, have an open mind, avoid having preconceived notions about people,make sure that every team member feels accepted and make sure that everyone speaks up; rather than making it a one or two man show.

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  1. Prafull Sharma

    Great article….. can relate to it during my childhood and my choice of doing research in ‘theoretical physics’ 🙂

  2. Mahir Bhatt

    Hahaha………I am also in the group. I read Quiet 4 years back, since than I know the tricks. 😀

  3. Mahir Bhatt

    I am also in the same group. I read Quiet 4 years back since than I know the tricks. 🙂


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