The personal brand known as “team player”

27Oct09

Peopleinworkshop

Pre-recession, there were articlesentire books, seminars and webinars devoted to how to change the workplace culture in order to make it more  Gen-Y or Millennial-friendly.  I even did a seminar once for a client on how to market to Millennials.  It was a hot topic.  Definitely, hard times have diminished the Millennial-centric workplace as a theme in pop-business culture. 

However, I remember that one of the truths that was being bandied about regarding Gen-Y’s or Millennials was that they flourished in a team environment, in fact, they demanded it.  This was particularly interesting to me since I had done my thesis on the team player vs. the individual performer in U.S. companies.  This was back in 1991 when we were in the throes of Six Sigma and TQM and were captivated by Japanese business culture.  “Team” was the organizational rage, particularly in the manufacturing industry.   Even though I had taught Six Sigma and was certified in TQM, I was skeptical about the cultural fit to American business society.

Nowadays we don’t do much manufacturing in the U.S. anymore but we hold on tenaciously to the concept of team as foundational to a successful business culture.  Senior teams, project teams, management teams, design teams, and so on.  In working with Fortune 500 clients in multiple industries over the past 15 years, I know that “teamwork” is one of those corporate-speak words like “vision” or “innovation” – it takes on very different meanings from company to company, even companies within the same industry. 

I once worked as a consultant to two different banks – both big players.  At one bank, the culture was  overtly competitive and confrontational – people clearly climbing over dead bodies so to speak, on their way to the top.  At the other bank, there was plenty of competition but being overtly competitive was considered bad form.  Indeed, the individual who could advance an agenda without ever creating any noticeable conflict of any kind was much admired.  Both banks said that “teamwork” was a core value.  But, neither of these banks would have described their culture nor their teamwork the way I described it – not for the record anyway.

So, what is my point?  Three points really.  One, being branded as a person who is not a team player is rarely career-postitive.   Two, the real rules of teamwork at any company are unwritten – no one will spell them out for you.   What you think team means and what team really means may not be related.  Three, watch how the most successful people in your organization go about managing their relationships – that is how to make teamwork work for you.

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