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There's no 'I' in Team

Optimize Blog - March 11, 2011 - 1 comment

Yes, we know that if you put some effort into it you can create the word ‘me’. However, “There’s no I in Team but if you try hard enough you can make the word ‘me'” would have been a pretty poor blog title…
Anyway, in our lives as management consultants, we regularly come across organizations or companies with ‘Teamwork’ as a written value and, happily, nearly everyone we meet recognizes the importance of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Why is it then that we also regularly come into contact with dysfunctional teams… those teams who are actually destroying value rather than harnessing the collective abilities of the team to produce exceptional results?
We’re sure most of you are familiar with Tuckman’s model around team dynamics or perhaps have read Lencioni’s excellent book on the dysfunctions of teams but we were intrigued by some recent research, undertaken by a collective from the University of Cambridge and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, exploring the level of teamwork amongst elephants.
The Asian elephants (Elephas Maximus) involved in the study had previously been taught that pulling on a rope brought a platform and the food reward piled on the platform towards them and into their reach. The research team decided to take things a little further and built some massive ‘team building games’ for the elephants and then observed the resultant behaviour.
The apparatus, set up at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang province, presented the elephants with a new twist on that simple task. One rope was threaded all the way around a platform so if only one end was tugged, the rope simply slipped off and the platform did not move. But if two elephants working as a team each took an end of the rope and pulled, the platform moved and they could claim their treats. “When we released one elephant before the other, they quickly learned to wait for their partner before they pulled on the rope,” said Dr Plotnik – the study leader.
[youtube=] Many scientists, photographers and film-makers have documented other remarkable behaviour by wild elephants, including “targeted helping” of other elephants that become stuck in mud and painting pictures…
[youtube=] So, if elephants can achieve effective team work through complex social interactions – why does it often prove so hard for us humans, with all our highly developed languages, books, cell phones and computers to figure this stuff out?
Perhaps the next time you are frustrated with your team’s inability to execute excellently you might remind yourself and your colleagues that even elephants can do it. And they never forget.

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1 comment

  1. Awesome job on the blog, thanks!

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