Once you realize teamwork needs to evolve and that you can create a smaller, swifter and more creative Ensemble instead, the sky's the limit.
Ah, the benefits of teamwork. Teams are efficient. Teams are powerful. Teams are diverse. If you really think about it, if any of those elements are true, it's not because of the teams.
It's because the teams are made up of individuals.
And it's the individuals that are supposed to be doing the work, but something's gone awry. Everything's been compartmentalized to the point that everyone on the team is in a position of waiting for someone else to complete a task so that they can get on with their task which will then allow another person to get to work on their task.
How can you escape this nightmarish trap? Try a novel solution:
Become A Soloist
The Soloist works within a company, but is not a loner, a recluse or a maverick. The Soloist has unlocked that integral connection between concentrated individual effort and accomplishment. Think of the Soloist more as a figure that harkens back to a time when the rugged individualist was held up as the paragon of American Ingenuity. When initiative, inventiveness and personal ambition were paramount.
In the book I wrote with Jonathan Littman, I Hate People!, we didn't invent the concept of the Soloist so much as we discovered it. Through research and interviews, we began to uncover secret Soloists in companies both gigantic and puny.
There's pride and a new sense of self in becoming a Soloist. The Soloist is keenly aware of the difference between creative, innovative effort and mind-numbing groupthink. By cutting loose form the pack whenever possible, the Soloist reaches new levels of performance.
Soloists are men and women who have learned the value of deflecting interruptions, artfully delegating work better seen to by others and morphing the creaky concept of teamwork into something more flexible and responsive: The Ensemble.
Cranking Up Your Ensemble
Before you go thinking Ensemble is just a euphemism for Team, think again. This isn't a typical project team or work group, pressed into service by mindless management that just wants warm bodies crushed into meeting rooms in the belief that kinetic energy will create something useful.
Ensembles are often made up of other Soloists like yourself. You might reach out to them or they might hear about your project and be intrigued enough to want in.
Ensembles aren't very big. Recent studies reveal that teams over four or five members begin to get redundant and ineffective. Nearly a century ago, a French agricultural engineer put teamwork to the test by attaching a rope to a strain gauge and then having teams of people pull on it. What he discovered was that slackers have been around for at least a hundred years. When a group of eight pulled on the rope, each person only yanked half as hard as when one person pulled on the rope alone. Soloist-style. So don't fall into the temptation of thinking that more is always better. Keep your Ensemble small - that way it will be nimble and responsive, keeping the project on track.
Get the most skilled people you can find to jump in. Often times one or more members of your Ensemble may not know or need to interact with each other. Some might not even work for your company, but be valued outside minds that you can turn to for trusted insight and advice without the baggage that may come with your firm's established corporate culture. One enterprising Soloist we interviewed who was a product developer for a major retailer revealed that she frequently would float new ideas past an Ensemble made up entirely of people outside the company. She wouldn't reveal any proprietary information, just enough to get useful feedback and thinking for her crew, which was always helpful in developing the ideas further.
What are you waiting for? A true Soloist knows better than to wait for some corporate dictate to proceed. You don't have to run the idea of being a Soloist past the boss -- just do it! And you won't be docked for pulling together a small group of individuals enthusiastic about moving a project ahead. If anything, you may be pointed to as a great example of how your company can finally trade in some tired old teamwork in favor of fresh-thinking and lively Ensembles.
Marc Hershon is the co-author of the new book I HATE PEOPLE! (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Jonathan Littman. Marc is a branding expert who, through his Simmer Branding Studio, has created such memorable names as nüvi, Crackle.com and the title for Dr. Phil's book "Love Smart".