Spontaneous cooperation vs. teamwork

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_ConceptI believe spontaneous cooperation should replace the conventional group think and teamwork philosophies. Nowadays almost everyone agrees that young generations should learn more to engage in a collective activity and become fit for teamwork. There seems to be nobody who is in principle against community work and all around we hear that learning to socialize with others and adapt to a team spirit in order to form working groups which strive for a common goal, is one of the most urgent skills the market and future societies need. And yet, several group leaders, teachers, professors and managers express their dissatisfaction for a lack of real progress in this respect. “Teamwork problems” is the first set of keywords that Google shows up.  Still too many students and employee conceive schools, universities, research centers and industries as places where to work lonely on the given workload with too weak interaction with colleagues and fellow students. Students are assigned to working groups and asked to collaborate towards a common goal and frequently different forms of encouragement united with forms of coercion are applied to enhance participation and ‘esprit de corps’. Almost all companies proclaim on their websites to value teamwork as a top priority and working method. It has become a fashion, almost a compulsion to highlight one’s conviction in it. Nevertheless, despite many efforts, a cohesive team remains an exception not a rule, reality looks usually very different than the proclaimed intentions.

It will not be the obsessive preaching and continuous call to teamwork that will bring it to life, The question is not if teamwork is desirable, on which all agree, but how it is supposed to be achieved. This is much less obvious and straightforward. It should be clarified what really kind of teamwork we are talking about? A synergic unity of people struggling for a goal is not a modern human activity but old as humankind. It has been extensively applied for thousands of years and meticulously elaborated throughout all cultures and times in the military, in order to drill soldiers to obedience, conformity, and reverent submission. Again google images for “teamwork”, and not surprisingly lots of military pictures show up. Of course no one would ever admit to conceive of teamwork in these terms (well, some do in fact). But truth is probably much more subtle. As the century old educational concepts which reverberate in our minds are unconsciously permeated and molded by a Taylor industrial mindset, so is our conception of teamwork which, without having awareness of the underlying cultural influence, relies mainly on a militaristic idea of group efficiency.

If we look instead at this problem with the lenses of the inner inherent freedom of the human being, it becomes not too difficult to understand were the problem lays. Spontaneous cooperation should be based on three basic pillars. First the freedom to ask the question and/or pose the problem. Rarely students are free to learn, investigate and research for the answers they have in mind. The exercise, the homework, the knowledge to be achieved is pre-assigned by the teaching force. Whereas it should be the other way around. Secondly, an individual aggregation freedom to a group or project according to one’s own interest or skills, or even to disengage from group work entirely, should be respected. Again, in standard academia the contrary is true: usually students are not free to chose in which group they may work. They are thrown into one or another set of people who are working on something they may not be interested in, and asked to be nevertheless collaborative. Thirdly, everyone should be free to chose his/her degree of effort in the participation process. This means that everyone can decide how much to be collaborative. I’m quite sure that the best way to incentivize collaboration is that not to force it on the members of a group. Whereas, nowadays one can see that, in order to foster group dynamics, some professors ask their students to asses with grades the other’s group members contribution and group effort. I’m skeptic that that works really.
Therefore, a spontaneous collaboration must be based on a freedom to ask questions, on the freedom to aggregate and the freedom to participate. This could open the way to the synthesis between a team spirit and everyone’s own personalized one-on-one mentoring combining it with self-directed experiential learning.