Teamwork, Not Rivalry Does The Job

by Randi S. Brenowitz

This article appeared in the San Jose Business Journal 9/27/02,
and in the June 16, 2003 issue of

As revenue decreases and corporate budgets shrink, employers throughout the United States are coping with more uncertainty. Forced to cut staff, they have to find a way to do more with less.

In order to enhance productivity during lean times, companies should take a new look at their problem-solving and decision-making tactics. Collaboration and teamwork represent two popular trends, but these generate some resistance from corporate America.

Why? Because of fear, mistrust, and inexperience. This is not a surprise. The skills essential for effective collaboration are not necessarily taught in school. Most of those born before the mid-1980s participated in educational environments that trained them to compete with, rather than work with, each other.

Then, class work and assignments were done individually. Students were graded on a bell-shaped curve that allowed for only a small number of highest grades and the same number of lowest grades. It was all about being ahead and getting the A's. Those students with a clear grasp of the course material had no incentive to help classmates where were struggling. That mindset is fraught with error.

Nowadays, many schools work toward nurturing a collaborative mindset to ensure students are well prepared for the complexities of adulthood. Rather than separating students into divided, competitive units, students are grouped in semicircles, or "pods," where they face and work with each other. Students are encouraged to discuss problems and work as teams on projects. The teacher functions as a leader, weaving his or her way through the groupings.

Most corporate leadership, unfortunately, grew up under the old school. But with effort and determination, business leaders can learn to foster teamwork on the job.

Managers must understand that simply assigning staff to a group project does not make that group a team. Employees need clear guidance tools, direction, and training to learn how to perform as team members. They want assurances that they can depend on their teammates to complete tasks and complement each other's responsibilities. And they need to see their leaders adopt a similar attitude and work ethic.

Managers may require additional coaching and training to learn how to function as team leaders and members, and to serve as role models for their organizations. Companies should create reward systems that foster collaboration rather than rivalry.

Teams should participate in creating goals and setting clear operating agreements about how members will behave toward each other. When they do so, their companies can succeed-even in these difficult times.

Randi S. Brenowitz is principal at Brenowitz Consulting, a Palo Alto, California-based Organization Development Consulting firm dedicated to improving productivity through teamwork and collaboration. For over 20 years Brenowitz has worked in partnership with her clients to develop teams, team leaders and team members in order to create collaborative work environments and increase corporate productivity.

To subscribe to Tools for Teams, her electronic newsletter, email For more information, contact Brenowitz Consulting at (650) 843-1611 or visit her website at


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