American work teams have delivered great benefits to senior managers and to shareholders but not to their members, the ones who are doing the proverbial, heavy lifting.
Under the rhetoric of team building, management in the past decade has enlarged jobs without proportionately enlarging pay, has downsized significantly, and has introduced behavioral controls that are dramatic, unprecedented, and beyond accountability.
Teams operate in these seldom discussed ways:
(1) As a team member, you’re peer-managed, and this is tougher control to buck or to shake or even to question, than formal management.
(2) You are urged to “sacrifice” your self-interest, i.e. the expectation of receiving more pay for doing more work, because everybody around you seems to be drinking the same self-effacing Cool-Aid.
(3) You can be criticized personally, for being selfish and interpersonally inadequate through rhetoric that says you’re “not a team player.” This introduces moralistic tones of personal goodness and badness into what should be an objectively defined, performance-based and performance-rewarded environment. It shifts the evaluative ground from what you do to who you “are.”
Anything individualistic about you can be used against you, for if you don’t buckle under to influence, you’re being a bad teammate; a “witch” in the workplace who risks being hunted and purged.
(4) Your job can be continuously enlarged with impunity, as long as a team has been assigned a special project to pursue. Does it matter that your position description doesn’t refer to doing certain new tasks, working added hours, without extra pay? Not if the team seems to have willingly adopted this objective as its own, and on behalf of you.
Your otherwise reasonable claim to differential pay and promotions because of your outstanding contributions can be ignored when your performance is diluted by your membership on a team.
As the cliché says, the letter “I” appears nowhere in the word “team.” So, “I deserve a raise” or “I am the best achiever here” are forbidden claims to a bigger slice of the pie.
(5) What the rhetoric of teamwork does is introduce communism into the lower ranks of the corporate order, while the higher ranks enjoy capitalism.
It’s a very lucrative trick if you can pull it off.
In a more innocent context, it’s like Tom Sawyer convincing his pals to whitewash the fence, for free.
But this is a different kind of whitewash, one that has no proper place in an economy that should recognize, appreciate, and reward the contributions of individuals.
Recently, a book editor sent me an email that said her publishing company operates on a team basis, and eschews “stars” of any kind. Predictably, her company asserts the right to pay less and expect more from writers.
Twentieth century philosopher Ayn Rand cautioned us all to be wary of those who urge us to sacrifice for the greater good of the collective. A refugee from the communist Soviet Union, she knew what she was speaking about.
She said, where some are urged to sacrifice, there are always others who are nearby, waiting to pick up the sacrificial offerings.
Dr. Gary S. Goodman, President of www.Customersatisfaction.com, is a popular keynote speaker, management consultant, and seminar leader and the best-selling author of 12 books, including Reach Out & Sell Someone®, You Can Sell Anything By Telephone! and Monitoring, Measuring & Managing Customer Service, and the audio program, “The Law of Large Numbers: How To Make Success Inevitable,” published by Nightingale-Conant. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, worldwide. A Ph.D. from USC’s Annenberg School, a Loyola lawyer, and an MBA from the Peter F. Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University, Gary offers programs through UCLA Extension and numerous universities, trade associations, and other organizations in the United States and abroad. He holds the rank of Shodan, 1st Degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate. He is headquartered in Glendale, California, and he can be reached at (818) 243-7338 or at: [email protected]