Working Together or Working Alone – What’s More Effective?
Teams, group projects, people putting their heads together to work on the same tasks or responsibilities. The practice of working together is something companies sure like to talk about a lot. They brag about how much they foster teamwork, collaboration, and togetherness, but how many are actually practicing what they preach?
The Push for Autonomous Workers
Many companies are moving away from the idea of working together in favor of smaller teams and independent workers. There is a big desire to do more with less. We’ve seen many workplaces in America downsizing and leaving fewer workers to do double (or triple!) the work. Large teams and departments are being replaced by one person armies.
This has been especially true in my career. Many times I was the only one in my department and expected to do the work of what 2-3 employees might have done 10 years ago. Minimal team sizes that scream “short staffed” are not a surprise to me at this point.
Another example I always like to use is fast food drive-thrus. Remember how years ago there were two windows? One person who took orders and collected your money at the first window. Another person preparing your food and bagging it at the second window.
Now pretty much every drive-thru is one window and they have one poor person trying to do everything! Drive-thru lines get longer and move slower. That poor employee is trying to juggle the jobs of two people. Plus, it somewhat bothers me that the person handling all the money is also packing my food and drinks with their money hands… All because companies want to save a little money.
But that’s not the point of this post. Is it better to work alone, or should more companies try to actively foster collaboration and return to the idea of having employees work together?
Thoughts on Working Alone
I am a fan of working alone. People who work alone often have a greater sense of ownership at work and more control to do things as they see best. They can more effectively organize their work and complete it more efficiently since they are keeping everything on their plate. There’s often a greater sense of pride and satisfaction once work is completed, and achievement is more easily recognized for those that deserve it.
More People Can Mean More Problems
Sometimes, throwing more people at a problem or task can slow progress down rather than speed it up. It can potentially be beneficial to work with other people when trying to address a problem, but ultimately the difference of opinions that naturally come up as you add more people will hinder the process.
Issues arise as the group gets larger from things like politics, process, hierarchy (official and non-official), and structure. Working alone, a decision can be made as soon as you say yes or no. As a group, now a decision has to go from person to person to person, each slightly warping it as it moves along in a bad game of “telephone”.
Next thing you know, one person doesn’t agree simply because the idea came from a team member that person dislikes. Another person doesn’t agree because they don’t understand the problem. Yet another person also disagrees because they want to do it “their way”. The time needed to clean up this interpersonal teamwork disaster takes away precious time from actually completing work.
Due to the team dynamic, progress is often slowed down because so much time and effort is spent either educating other team members or trying to “sell” decisions or best practices to the team. Even once everyone is on the same page, it isn’t uncommon for work to be done poorly by other team members which requires extra time to fix mistakes.
Dealing with an Uneven Playing Field
Speaking of mistakes… another problem with working together is that competent team members are often held back by incompetent team members. Even worse, incompetent team members are made to look all the better because of the knowledge and hard work of the competent team members cleaning up their mess.
One thing strikes me as funny. In a perfect world, working together should actually be the most beneficial option all the time, but only because all the team members would be competent in this hypothetical perfect world! I actually do think working together would be more beneficial most of the time if you could guarantee teams of only highly competent folks.
Who are we trying to kid, though? This is real life and there will always be varying skill levels. When different levels of competency are present, more time is spent communicating how things should be done rather than actually doing the things you’re talking about. Time is spent trying to get everyone to agree, or helping to educate teammates who aren’t understanding their responsibilities, or cleaning up the mistakes of others. Tangible progress slows dramatically and it makes working together quite inefficient and frustrating.
Thoughts on Working Together
Though I personally prefer to work alone, I can’t ignore the benefits of working together. It’s important to mention again that working with others can be extremely beneficial if the group’s compatibility is good. If there is a good chemistry among the group, success can often be greater than anyone could ever achieve on their own.
Good teamwork skills can also be critical for success in both professional and personal ventures. There will be several times where you’ll just HAVE to work with someone else to achieve the goal (for example, doctors might need to work together to form a treatment plan for a patient). There may also be instances where you don’t personally want to work alone, and sometimes you might not even have the choice. If you have a task to do and it requires teamwork, that’s what you’ll need to do!
I feel that the biggest benefit of teamwork is the ability to potentially do more than you could otherwise in a certain time frame. Or perhaps it’s delegating tasks to others to focus on the things most important to you. Your time, energy, and resources are always limited. At a certain point, you’ll run out of time to do everything that needs to be done. Sure, maybe you can maybe do things more efficiently on your own, but if a project will take you a week and it’s due in 2 days, working with others will get you there.
Team Work Develops Important Skills for Your Success
But putting results aside, the skills you develop from working with others are invaluable for your own independent success in any type of situation. As I mentioned previously, not everyone in the real world is the same competency level. The group dynamic will not always be ideal. We need to effectively work with people who have diverse backgrounds, varying skill levels, and differing opinions.
Learning the skills that allow you to achieve the best results for the group as a whole regardless of the compatibility of the group members is the real benefit. You get to practice important skills such as empathy, critical listening, project management, and leadership. You learn how to communicate effectively to all sorts of different audiences. Your ability to resolve conflicts and overcome barriers becomes stronger. You build general social skills that will prove useful whether you’re an introvert or extravert. These are all skills that are useful in all parts of life.
Overall, sometimes the group’s chemistry is beneficial, other times it can prove to be a hindrance. Regardless, learning how to succeed in any setting will allow you to excel, stand out, and get stuff done. After all, the group’s success is your success.
To Work Together or to Work Alone
There are pros and cons to working alone or working together. There’s really no right or wrong answer. What’s more effective will depend entirely on each individual situation. The employees, the tasks or projects, the company’s leadership (and more) will all be variables in the equation.
What we can strive for though is a different kind of teamwork.
Employees should be able to work independently and have complete ownership over their tasks and responsibilities. They shouldn’t need to rely on others to get their work done.
Employers should assign responsibilities that make sense for each individual person. It’s silly to have two or more people work on similar tasks because it slows down the process. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for one person to stamp envelopes and another to seal them. One person can do that just fine, but some companies would use multiple people!
When companies strive to foster this modernized take on teamwork, the result will be happier employees and more productive operations. You tend to get the best of both worlds. The employees’ ability to have complete ownership over all the tasks will generally lead to new efficiencies and minimal roadblocks since everything is under their wings. Everyone is part of the same team but playing their own vitally important roles.
So when it comes to the decision to work together or work alone, do what works best for you, but master how to do both because you never know what life may throw at you.
– Mr. Happy Work