Implicit notions of teamwork

People often echo a common refrain in various institutions and organizations. They consistently view teamwork as the cornerstone for enhancing both institutional and corporate performance. And rightly so. However, what does “teamwork” truly mean? More importantly, when individuals discuss teamwork, what are they really thinking? Furthermore, could the perceptions of teamwork that members hold directly influence the success of their leaders?

We really need some teamwork in this place!

Teamwork means different things to different people

Many people will be surprised that teamwork means different things to different people. Conceivably, therefore, leadership effectiveness and success seem to depend not only on the personal qualifications of leaders.  These are knowledge, charisma, training, expertise, experience and professionalism. But, also, on the implicit notions of teamwork that institutional and organizational members hold.  Appleseed Associates of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, identified six different things that people frequently mean when they talk about teamwork.

1. The Do-It-My-Way Notion of Teamwork

This notion revolves around the idea that team members should follow the leader’s orders without question. It operates on the belief that the leader always knows best. While this might hold true in rare situations where the leader is perceived as omniscient and the team members as uninformed, it’s not a universal truth.

2. Win-One-for-the-Home-Team Notion of Teamwork

This concept emphasizes personal sacrifice to the point of martyrdom. Here, team members willingly endure any hardship, whether it’s sacrificing time, health, or family life, all for the success of their institution or organization. Their dedication knows no bounds.

3. You-Do-Your-Job, I’ll-Do-Mine Notion of Teamwork

This approach values individual excellence above all. The idea is simple: if everyone excels in their roles, the collective outcome will naturally be successful. Team members often feel that as long as they excel in their individual tasks, they can’t be blamed if the organization struggles. Consequently, there’s a focus on personal or departmental success, sometimes at the expense of the bigger picture, leading to potential rivalries.

4. Play-Like-a-Team Notion of Teamwork

This perspective champions unity and coordinated action. It’s based on the belief that while everyone has a unique role, collaboration is key. Much like in sports, team members support and coordinate with each other to achieve the best overall outcome.

5. Don’t-Rock-the-Boat Notion of Teamwork

This notion prioritizes group cohesion and complete alignment with group decisions. It rests on the belief that the group’s decision is always the right one. Individual deviations or challenges to the status quo aren’t just discouraged; they’re often penalized. Even if certain group decisions lead to negative outcomes, they remain unchallenged, turning group consensus into an unbreakable dogma.

6. Let’s-Co-Create-Together Notion of Teamwork

This approach celebrates collective wisdom and collaboration. It acknowledges and values individual differences, operating on the belief that the best outcomes arise from merging unique perspectives and skills. The team thrives on diverse input and collaborative efforts.

The six notions of teamwork are regarded as social facts

Two observations emerge from the foregoing analysis: First, the six models of teamwork that are summarized here are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. Considerable overlaps exist that are beyond the scope of this paper. Second, and by way of a disclaimer, no comparison is intended. All six notions are regarded as social facts. They are for all practical purposes, “valid”. As valid as notions, assumptions, beliefs, customs and conventions can be.

The focus of this paper is on the implications for the leadership of cultural, contextual, and implicitly held notions of teamwork. The concern is particularly with alignment – the extent to which group members and their leaders share a common understanding of teamwork.

Misalignment between group members and leaders

Experience suggests that this is not always the case: By reason of their sociocultural upbringing, intellectual orientations, professional training, and so many other variables, group members and their leaders seldom share a common understanding of teamwork. And, to the extent that group members’ notions of teamwork are at variance with one another and/or with the leader’s understanding of the construct, much of today’s “leadership crisis” stands explained.

Stated simply, the much-lamented ineffectiveness and poor performance of many leaders face challenges not because of personal shortcomings like incompetency, lack of knowledge, inadequate training, absence of charisma, or factors like gender, age, race, and ethnicity. Instead, it’s plausible that a significant number of leadership issues in institutions and organizations stem from a misalignment or conflicting views on teamwork between leaders and group members. Often, these discrepancies exist beneath the surface, unnoticed.

Successful leadership requires alignment

It is probably safe to conclude that successful leadership is not solely a function of personal “qualifications”. But, also, of conceptual congruence and alignment. If today’s leaders are to effectively mobilize and engage group members in the vitally important task of transforming their institutions and organizations, it is essential that they: a) understand the ideas and models of teamwork that inform the actions (patterns and operational relationships) of group members; and b) try to harmonize the implicit and, almost inevitably, conflicting models of teamwork that group members hold.

  • About the Author
  • Latest Posts

Dr. Efiong Etuk is founding director of the Global Creativity Network,, a worldwide community of concerned individuals dedicated to the idea of a world in which everyone can be effective, creative, and successful. Proponent of a “Global Creativity-Consciousness,” “The Right to Be Creative,” “Mass Creativity,” and the “Global Creativity ‘Marshall Plan,’” Dr. Etuk speaks and writes extensively on strategies for nurturing and engaging everybody’s unique abilities in the Great Work of building a viable and sustainable global civilization that is worthy of our generation and an enduring legacy to future generations.