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Getting People to (Not) Work Together

I think the word teamwork dates back to the origins of workplace jargon. What a wonderful concept: employees cooperating with each other, placing the organization's goals before their individual interests. Why then, is it difficult--in fact, damned near impossible--to convince employees to work together? Because regardless of the lip service we apply to promoting teamwork, we discourage it in our actions:

"Welcome to the organization. We just need a few signatures. First is our noncompete agreement, which prohibits you from working in this country for one year after resigning. We fully expect you'll want to stay here forever, but in case we abuse you too much, please sign this form waiving your right to sue us. We're happy to have you--permanently--on our team.

"If it's all the same to you, we'll assign you to one of our micromanaging team leaders. You'll like the slower pace that comes from your boss's lack of trust and low expectations. Don't be alarmed if your teammates grow to distrust you or doubt your ability; that seems to happen a lot on this leader's team. If it gets too bad, feel free to withhold your best efforts, complain, treat colleagues discourteously, and show disrespect for the entire team; everyone else does.

"Before you know it we'll promote you to player manager. Then you can go head-to-head with your team members, competing for clients and sales, and all those other things we know everyone aspires to, like job titles, money, and power. Just be careful about sharing information with others; if you end up helping them look good, they'll probably get the promotion you want. Before you act, always ask, 'What's in it for me?'

"If you fail, we'll help you pack your things. Or you can try pointing the blame at another team member. In fact, you might want to practice sabotaging your coworkers; forced ranking time is just around the corner and we're a little short on C players this year.

"If you have any questions about the computer system, just call our support team. They're five states away and three hours behind. They help us maintain our open communications; that is, whenever you can get through to them.

"We're glad you're here. Enjoy the synergy!"

Remember, people do what you reward. Yet for some reason, we forget to reward teamwork. Instead, we base our compensation systems around the private interests of individual employees. Sell the most and win a cruise. And when we reward different people for unrelated things, it's unsurprising that most leaders say getting employees to work together is their toughest challenge.

If you want your employees to work together, structure their rewards, structure your vision, and structure your culture around teamwork.
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