As Millenials and Gen Z workers take the reins, the traditional, top-down structure of the workplace has been smooshed down and made more team-centric. Over the past decade, individual offices have been replaced with open-plan, collaborative spaces; teamwork and open-collaboration are valued over simply executing orders; team management and collaboration apps are increasingly popular.
In this new landscape, you’d be forgiven for thinking that every task must be tackled together. Before those of us who are introverts start hyperventilating, rest assured that this isn’t the case.
If you’re a team leader, understanding when to delegate tasks individually and when to work together will enhance productivity levels and decrease friction.
Individually — Idea generation
Brainstorming sessions are dead, long live individual idea generation! Yes, this might be controversial, but according to a 2010 study, contrary to what many believe, brainstorming in groups is actually less productive, both in quantity and in quality.
If you think about it, it’s not all that shocking. Has your train of thought ever been disrupted by someone else? When left alone, your mind can wander, go off tangents, and work through thoughts until you find a unique and pithy idea.
Each individual has their own experiences that shape the way they process information and make sense of the world. Within a group dynamic, as soon as the first person presents the first idea, it will inevitably influence how the brief is framed in everyone else’s mind.
Collaboratively — Reaching a consensus
A group of, say, five people, who have each generated ideas individually, can then regroup to confer, constructively debate, and reach an agreement on how best to move forward.
Moving forward with the strongest idea, each team member can then apply their experience, knowledge and perspective to improve it, add to it, nurture it.
A team of good communicators who are able to both give and take constructive criticism will create trust, and encourage creativity within your team.
Individually — Client contact
Maintaining contact with clients and customers is an important part of every business in every industry. Of course, it’s good to be able to boast a number of professionals with different skill sets all on hand to attend to their needs, but when it comes to ensuring they have a consistent and reliable contact, it’s best to assign that role to a key individual.
Relationships are everything when it comes to retaining clients and customers. The more people involved, the less personal the service. The less personal the service, the poorer the relationship.
Collaboratively — Large tasks
“23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.” Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take sick days, and over twice as likely to be seeking another job.
Of course, there are many factors that contribute to burnout, but one can be alleviated by working collaboratively.
Large tasks are overwhelming especially when left to face them alone. Team members can motivate each other and provide emotional support.
Completing a task gives us a sense of accomplishment and that all-important dopamine rush that keeps us motivated. Breaking down tasks and designating them to various team members helps to increase the regularity with which team members feel that dopamine hit.
Individually — Small tasks with tight deadlines
Sometimes you just need to get the job done. An individual can get their head down and focus, undistracted and unimpeded.
That last word is important. Make sure you protect individual employees who have a time-sensitive task. As Jeremiah Dillon, head of product marketing for Google Apps for Work differentiated between managers and makers once wrote:
“[Makers] need to make, to create, to build. But, before that, they need to think. The most effective way for them to use time is in half-day or full-day blocks. Even a single 30-minute meeting in the middle of “Make Time” can be disruptive.
Respect make time, and ensure other team members do too.
Collaboratively — Debrief
Once the project is over and you’ve received client feedback, it’s time for the debrief meeting. Order in some pastries and set the coffee machine to work.
Even if you’ve got a heavy workload, there are several reasons why it’s a good idea to take the time to regroup and reflect.
Firstly, it’s a chance to show team members that they are valued. Generally, organizations are underperforming in this area. In a study by TINYpulse, only 21% of employees said they feel strongly valued. Secondly, the same study revealed that recognition from team members is an important motivator. Camaraderie and peer motivation were listed as the most important reason why employees go the extra mile. More important, even, than money. A debrief meeting is a great opportunity to foster good feeling between team members.
Finally, it allows each team member to grow individually. We each have strengths and blind spots. Constructive feedback in a controlled environment enables employees not only to feel encouraged by their positive feedback but also to acknowledge what skills they can develop moving forward. If you notice that the individual improves, make sure you show acknowledgment and appreciation.
Individually — Report writing
When writing a report, presentation or any other client-facing document, it’s important to have a cohesive, consistent voice.
Presenting a mishmash of varying voices can appear unprofessional and may cause there to be inconsistencies.
That’s not to say that the body of the work needs to be carried out by one person, sometimes that’s not feasible, but it should at least be thoroughly proofread and carefully edited to ensure all component parts are organized to create a clear, whole picture.
Once an individual has read through the report in its entirety and has internalized the key elements, they’ll also be more likely to identify gaps and irregularities that were previously undetectable.
So, is teamwork better than working individually? As you can see, the answer is: it depends! Just because collaboration and teamwork are buzzwords, it isn’t always appropriate.
We’re yet to see the long-term effects of COVID-19 on teams that can no longer work in the same space. Remote working might dictate how much we can work collaboratively. Will we ever find a solution for Zoom fatigue? That’s a question for another day, but the answer may well impact the future of collaborative work.
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