There Is An I In Team

• By Mark de Rond
• Harvard Business Review Press
• RRP $49.99

For those people who, like me, feel numbed by the hackneyed and simplistic catch-cry that we must all be team players, this book wafts into our lives welcome breath of fresh air. For it peels back the mantras behind team dynamics to reveal more nuanced, and intuitively sensed, truth about what happens when bunch of people are told to all pull together.
As the title suggests, Mark de Rond champions the idea that self-centred and even selfish attitudes do not necessarily detonate team to Kingdom Come. Viewed openly and honestly, such attitudes can serve as strengthening agent for the wider group.
Drawing extensively on his work with high-performing sports teams, de Rond reviews chapter-by-chapter the multiple pieces of research that suggest that to turn teams of high performers into high-performing teams, inequality can be useful.
He believes conflict happens even as intentions are perfectly aligned. He argues that likeability in team member can triumph over technical competence: thereby suggesting that high performance in team context must include some measure of social and emotional intelligence. Yay to that. And he concludes that too much harmony can actually hurt team performance.
“In that sense,” writes de Rond, “this book is faithful to the lived experience of those who inhabit high performance teams. It takes people for what they are, not for what they might be. It assumes that people are in principle self-interested, and that no matter how genuine the effort of senior management, rallying cry around the firm’s mission will only have limited traction.”
At the heart of de Rond’s thinking lies his acknowledgement that humans are refreshingly different from automata. “Their shared humanity,” he says, “is cacophony of qualities: genius, suspicion, frailty, fallibility, altruism, self-centredness, superstition, pride and anxiety.”
That’s why we get process losses, disagreements and relational conflicts. That’s why some combinations of teams work better than others. And it’s why some very functional teams can feel bit rocky from the inside looking out.
“But team’s humanity also holds the key to its effectiveness,” de Rond concludes, “in that having recognized the vulnerability of others we may allow ourselves to be vulnerable in turn, able to connect by means of shared humanity.”
For anyone who has ever felt sneaking sense of rivalry towards team member even as they have collaborated with them, this book tells you you’re normal and could well be an asset to that team. Yay and double yay.

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