Don’t mistake team work for parallel work

During a recent conversation I had about the required skills for any candidate today someone told me  “what businesses want is people who are good at team work and like it because that’s the way work is getting done today”. Then a long silence followed this statement as if all the participants realized it was not that obvious.

Collaboration, cooperation, team work….these are words we all use (and sometimes the one instead of the other) to say “people working together”. But these words mean different things. I can’t tell the number of managers I’ve seen mistaking promoting team work and making a team work.

Make people team-work or make a team work ?

To make an analogy with sports, team work supposes interactions between people. Basketball and football are team sports. Players pass the ball to each other, make up for others mistakes (or try to), move regarding others move and positioning : in short they continuously adapt to what their teammates and opponents are doing. And they talk to do so. The collective is not the sum of individualities : it can be higher or lower.

Now let’s talk about rowing. Few interactions, each one exactly know what to do. Each rower delivers its effort in parallel with others. Of course coordination is needed, they must all have the same pace. No use to talk. But in the end the collective is the sum of individualities.

Ok, the comparison is simplistic but what matters is the analogy.

In the one hand we have team work, in the other parallel work. And what about cooperation ? I can’t resist to make a parallel with relay race and share this excellent video of Yves Morieux. What I want to highlight starts at 3.36 even if the whole video is worth being watched (and his book being read).


Now let’s get back to business.

According to the kind of task, of jobs, what’s needed is team work or cooperation. What we see too often is parallel work. In parallel work managers don’t make team work happen but make a team work.

Many teams live together but sleep in separate rooms

What’s the difference ?

People don’t work together but individually. We can say that they work together if they are in the same room but it would be the same if they were all in different places. Shared lifes, separate rooms.

Mangers distribute work and consolidate. In team work everyone knows the final goal and how each one contributes to it. In parallel work it’s recommended but not mandatory : each team member performs his tasks in his corner without caring about what others are doing.

They don’t communicate and adapt to others, it’s not about collective adjustments. They just report to the manager and the manager decides on the adjustments.

The difference is rooted in the vision the manager has of its role. In one case he sets goals and let team members find solutions, help them to find them, in the other he organizes, controls, fix collective issue. In the first case interactions happen within the team, in the other between each team member and the manager.

Team Work is still a fiction in many workplaces

When I see the number of teams where people have very few interactions, where very few decisions are made at the team level and a lot by the manager, there’s still a long way before team work becomes a reality.

Credit Photo : Fotolia

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

Recent posts