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3 Teamwork, Team Playing, and Belly bucking

February 17, 2015
   Update of 1999-0215 Teamwork, Team Players, and Belly Bucking: Inhibitors to Innovation?

Once upon a time, I saw a TV commercial by a laptop company on how rugged their product was.  They showed two stout fellows arguing about it and, to determine the outcome of their argument, they tied their laptops to their bellies, drew a line on floor and proceeded to "belly buck" to show how tough the laptops were. Just like the "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" commercial.
(I note that, apparently, the commercial was never put on the Internet, or at least the grep follow ons, i.e. the Google/Microsoft empires, can't find it.)

Everyone Talks About and Espouses "Team"

This brought to mind the problems I have had with folk whose view of "team" was one of them dominating everyone, getting paid more, etc, even if they were not the most stellar of folk.

A couple of years ago, I had a discussion with my manager about what is "teamwork" and "being a team player" during which we developed some interesting insight.  It seems that a co-worker had to complained to my manager that I (the manager) "wasn't being a team player" because I would not let him just "do his thing" with zero input and blindly accepting the result.  The turkey was attempting a political machination to advance his salary by getting "results", even if they were marginal.

Definition of "Team" and "Team Work"

A dictionary definition
Teams  defn: 1) a number of persons forming on of the sides in a game or contest: a football team, 2) a number of persons associated in some joint action: a team of advisors.   Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1983 pg 1949

Teamwork defn: cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of the common cause.  ibid pg 1949

Yes, those are not incorrect, but they aren't, for me, particularly useful.  There would seem to be much that is missing.

My Definition of "TeamWork"

My definition of teamwork, not agreed with by the lone ranger, had the following elements:

  1. having a well defined common goal that everyone wants to achieve
  2. having an easily measured yardstick showing progress towards the goal

and then the teamwork behaviors I look for include:

  1. everyone one focusing on "doing what it takes" to achieve that goal, no prima donnas
    Yes, they have assigned roles and outputs, but no social loafing and no blinders allowed.
  2. proactively identifying issues and impediments that would keep us from being successful,
    =>no avoidance of problems
  3. embracing and driving the resolution of those issues before they became problems.

I note that my definition of "teamwork" was derived from the "breakthrough team" definition I learned in the mid '80's.  To whit, the way to have an empowered, team able to breakthrough to bigger and better accomplishments is to:
1) have a well defined goal
2) have a solid metric that measures progress towards that goal
3) provide them with sufficient resources and control of those resources
4) provide them with freedom of action to drive the solution.

But What About a "Team Player"?

Team player defn: a person who willing works in cooperation with others, ibid pg 1949

But the discussion with my former manager also brought up a different variation of "teams" centered along different lines.

If one thinks of a football team, then a different variation of teamwork arises.  This team work is more focused and segmented: each person is to focus on drive their own elements.  They don't worry about issues or problems that the other team players may encounter, only their own.  They expect to be "rewarded" if they "do their job", even if the team loses.

The terminology is different in this perspective: we use the terms of "coach" and "quarterback" to indicate extremely knowledgeable people who make the key decisions and then there are the task-skill "players" to do the action.  There is a hierarchical "command" structure defined that presumes more definitive strategic and planning knowledge. If the opponents intercept what should have been a novel surprise to cause a loss, like in the recent Superbowl, oh, well, the bosses messed up.

A key element of this variation is the availability of a well defined set of roles/jobs/actions that the team members understand, understand the interrelationship, and understand how to accomplish the role.  In this model, there should be a lot more compartmentalization and isolation.  Visibility into other "teamplayers" will be limited and the goal is to drive for rapid, crisp completion of the local piece of the work.

And then there is Belly Bucking"

Belly-Bucking defn: a contest, typically between two stout "gentleman", usually in a bar after a number of "refreshments, to see who can push the other away from a line, using only their bellys.
A friend of mine would often comment on the "belly bucking" contests she saw in the work groups within Intel.  In places where cooperation and teamwork (by my definition) would result in a sure, swift solution to the problem, some of the participants wanted to be "right", to have "their solution" "be the one", even if more knowledgeable folk knew it would make it more "difficult".

Rather than a "dialogue" on the issues at hand, there would be a "debate" about the who's ideas were better.  Typically this was done in the absence of concrete data and thus was resolve, if at all, by who could emotionally batter the other into submissions.

The problem is when skills, knowledge, or experiences are "over positioned" to "win".  When issues or problems are ignored or hidden to avoid losing position or having others use them in negative ways.   Some of this is cultural: the need to "win", "go for the gold", "me team", etc.  As Nicholson (An interesting reference on this is a recent Harvard Business Review July-August 1998  "How hardwired is Human Behavior" by Nigel Nicholson, page 135-147), points out that this is a key part of human nature and, in less technical times, was a route for success within a clan or tribe.

Level IV Ignorance and Dunning/Kruger Effect

The problem is a social/dynamic one of individuals "winning" to get dominance, bigger salaries, bully competitors, drive away women, etc.

The root is the rewards/positive results the individual receives when, suffering form Level IV ignorance (they don't know that they don't know), they apply Dunning-Kruger bias to "win", even if they have no clue and are heading in a disastrous direction.


Recent Commentaries
in Classic Commentaries Book

Commentary: Classics - February 17, 2015
3  Teamwork, Team Playing, and Belly bucking
Commentary: Classics - January 02, 2001
1  4th Order Ignorance
Commentary: Classics - February 07, 1999
2  Communication or Speaking Gibberish?

Classic Commentaries
       Chapters

1   4th Order Ignorance
  January 02, 2001
2   Communication or Speaking Gibberish?
  February 07, 1999
3   Teamwork, Team Playing, and Belly bucking
  February 17, 2015
Carpe Diem: What you can envision, you can achieve!sm
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