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November 22, 2009

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 07:36

Is it overrated? Leland Teschler, editor of Machine Design, believes it is. In his July 30, 2009 column, Teschler said, “Development teams are often an obstacle to creativity rather than a vehicle for truly elegant solutions.” My experience has been similar. Teams are needed for many product development projects, but it’s the individual that often comes up with the really innovative solutions. Individual productivity typically declines as the size of a team expands, Teschler points out.

It may be worse at large companies, Teschler expects, because many employees are there because they like to interact with others. Getting work done is less important to them. Socializing slows down those who are trying to make progress on a project.

Another problem may be that young people entering the workforce are not experienced at working as a member of a team. This might be why some colleges and universities are now stressing teamwork and requiring students to work in teams to solve problems. It builds experience and character that they can carry into the workplace.

Perhaps of most interest is this: Most game-changing products come from a handful of high achievers, not teams, according to Teschler. Scientific research suggests that teams can actually distract from individual creativity. The conclusion of one study was that for effective innovative and creative thinking, individualism wins out over teamwork. Upper management, however, does not get it. Teschler reported that 40 years ago, Fortune magazine found managers to rank teamwork as 10th on the list of valued employee qualities. In 2005, it was number one.