What causes rants against teamwork and collaboration?

When I read David Freedman’s “The Idiocy of Crowds” I thought he was being intentionally provocative to increase readership, online traffic, and discussion. Freedman’s main thesis is far-reaching, “The effectiveness of groups, teamwork, collaboration, and consensus is largely a myth.” Freedman based this conclusion on three familiar topics: the dangers of unchecked “groupthink”, the inefficiencies and inequities of “social loafing”, and research showing that individuals can outperform groups on certain tasks. If I had read the far-reaching conclusion anywhere other than Inc. Magazine, I may not have given it another thought.

However, I felt compelled to post my concerns about the article because, as JP Rangaswami explained, “This kind of thinking will gain currency.” Rather than posting immediately, I decided to wait several days to conduct a (non-scientific) experiment to watch what kind of traction Freedman’s ideas would get. I wanted to see how the crowd in the blogosphere would react; whether a group would coalesce around Freedman’s arguments; whether differing opinions would emerge. I refrained from blogging my own views to remain an outside, although not completely unbiased, observer.

Here is what I observed: first the numbers, then the words.

The numbers
During September 8-17, Technorati cataloged 50 posts linking to the original article. Many of these posts contained only a link to the article without commentary. Twenty-two (22) posts did contain comments, which I categorized as follows:

Agreed with Freedman’s views 12
Disagreed with Freedman’s views 6
Agreed and Disagreed with different aspects 2
Commented that the article was interesting 2
Total 22

What do these numbers tell us? Not too much. Slightly more than half of comments agreed with Freedman’s opinions. It is not unexpected that bloggers who agreed with the column would post about it. Nor is it particularly telling that some bloggers disagreed with Freeman and others took no firm position.

The words
It was when I started cataloging the content of the posts about Freedman’s article that a pattern emerged. The pattern? In a word: Rants. Freedman’s article seems to have unleashed passions, resulting in several rant-like posts against teamwork and collaboration. Here is a sampling of the posts I categorized as agreeing with Freedman’s views.

A myth that needs to be flushed down.

A brick or a concrete block can’t think because it doesn’t have a brain. A group doesn’t have a brain. You wouldn’t want a brick to think for you because it can’t. Why would you want a group to think for you? Does it make sense to base an entire political and social system like democracy on such a fallacy? Of course not. Yet every election day, we allow a group to make our decisions for us.

Meetings populated by yes-men and time-wasting boardroom jockeys.

Isn’t it interesting that some of the most committed advocates of online collectives tend to be consultants − loners, people that make a living, parasitically, off the predictable failures of corporate teamwork?

Quite often the people most willing to spend time chiming in with reviews and opinions on stuff are the bitter ones, kind of like the folks most willing to phone talk-in political radio shows (i.e. a bit loony).

Loony. Parasitic. Yes-men. Concrete blocks. Boardroom jockeys. The pattern was clear – there seems to be a lot of pent up frustration about working in teams. By and large, the bloggers I quoted appear to be thoughtful writers, with much valuable information on their blogs. That makes me wonder …

What caused this pattern? Why does the topic of collaboration inspire negative thoughts, derogatory language, and condemnation?

Is it possible that some of us are wired for collaboration and others for working alone? Have bad teamwork experiences soured many to the idea of collaboration?

I’ll explore these questions in future posts. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Why do you think collaboration and teamwork inspire such negative reactions from some?

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2 Responses to What causes rants against teamwork and collaboration?

  1. […] A few weeks ago I shared some analysis and observations about (mostly business) bloggers’ reactions to David Freedman’s Inc. magazine article “The Idiocy of Crowds.” Freedman takes the provocative position that, “Collaboration is the hottest buzzword in business today. Too bad it doesn’t work.” […]

  2. Loofa says:

    Clearly, you’re a proponent of teams.

    Teams can be effective if they are focused and everyone knows his or her role, but often, especially in the circumstances in which the “flat organization” is espoused, there are no clear roles. This confusion leads to inefficient operation, and yes, frustration.

    Secondly, the push for teams ignores a very real human trait: the desire for achievement. For whatever reason, people who have lower levels of desire for achievement have higher desires for coalition. So the people who like teams are the ones who are okay being ‘average’. they even strive for this, seeing normalcy as an end desire. Focusing on teams and removing individual rewards specifically destroys the motivation in the most capable members.

    It may be hard for you to understand this, but I, one of those nasty evil ‘achievers’ want to be rewarded for my work, and acknowledged for it. These aren’t bad things, they drive human accomplishment.

    Finally, I’ve experienced managers who believe in what you say, that “team” orientedness is what is desirable in employees; ultimately, they just wanted submissive, easy-to-manage employees so that they could be the ones on top with everyone else on bottom.

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