Why Bother? I'm Winning

The format of the annual log-chopping competition was very straightforward. The two best lumberjacks were selected by acclaim. Each had a pile of logs and an axe, and was separated from the other by a canvas screen. Axe and Firewood
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Whoever finished chopping their pile of logs first won. On the whistle, John started steadily, pacing himself. Over the cheering of the crowd he could hear Mike, on the other side of the screen, swinging at about the same rate. After about an hour, John heard Mike stop. "He's resting", thought John, "Good tactic, but I'm still feeling strong so I am going to press on." Five minutes later, John heard Mike start again. An hour later, another five-minute break by Mike. "I've got him now", thought John and increased his pace. This continued throughout the morning. John swung harder and faster, sweat, breath and chips of wood flying. He heard Mike stop for about the fifth or sixth time and, with a grin of anticipation, he glanced at his remaining pile of logs. But this time a whistle sounded and the canvas screen was pulled back to reveal that Mike had finished - he had won easily. John, in a daze, walked over and shook Mike's hand. "Congratulations", he said, "When I heard you stopping for a rest every hour, I thought I was going to win easily"."Rest?", said Mike, "I was sharpening my axe."

With thanks to Jeremy Holt of the Centre for Team Excellence


What Is A Team?

One definition of a team is a group of individuals with a shared aim. To consider what makes a team, consider some groups of people who share an aim and what these can reveal about the nature of teams.

Bus Queue
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First, a bus queue: that is a group of people with the same aim but they are obviously not a team. What they do doesn't make a difference to the outcome - they can't wait faster because they wait together. But if they were to form a campaign group to press for a better bus service ...

What about people in a queue at a sale? That seems even worse because individuals are competing with each other. Or are they? Suppose two of them started to talk and found out that they were after different bargains in the sale. They might find out that, if they cooperated ...

What about a Tug-of-War Team? That is obviously a group working together with the same aim, all doing the same thing. Is it a good example of a team? Yes and no: a researcher called Ringelmann investigated the difference between the amount of effort put into a task such as pulling on a rope by individuals working alone or in teams. He found that people put less effort in when in a team, a phenomenon he called Social Loafing. This might sound a bit harsh, but it is the way human's behave in certain conditions. In simple terms, to encourage teamwork you reduce the conditions that encourage 'Social Loafing'.

Most people, when they think of a good example of a team, will think of a sports team. If you follow any sport you will probably be able to think of examples when an apparently weaker team defeated an apparently stronger one because they played better together. There are lessons from these and other examples that can help create strong teamwork in other situations.