Teamwork or individual contribution – how to choose?

team1Many times, we are not sure if we would like to be part of a team or become an individual contributor. We are not able to make this choice due to a mix of our behavioural characteristics and past experiences. Several studies have indicated the importance of teamwork over indidivual contribution and vice versa. According to a research by Professor Barry Straw from the University of California at Berkeley, firms that promote an individualistic behavior are better at generating innovative and creative ideas than firms that a team-based culture. Another research shows teams are more productive than individuals.

But according to my experiences, any of these traits does not have an upperhand over each other. It all depends on the situation you are facing. In most cases, the choice between teamwork and individual contribution largely depends with an individual.

So we must ask ourselves following questions before making a choice between the two:

 What is your main objective?

Whatever you wish to do – be a team member or play an individual contributor role, consider the broader picture. Have an overall view of what you want at the end of an assignment. Ask yourself, if you would require people’s support to accomplish a task? Ask yourself if the activity could be better performed in a team or is it just one person’s work? Answering some basic questions like these will help you take an effective decision quickly.

 How much time you have?

Timing your requirements is a very critical step of every assignment. If you are leading a project and there is scope to involve more brains, you must try to do that. Diverse perspectives always bring greater insights to the project. However, you should have the time to incorporate everyone’s viewpoints. When you are facing a time crunch already, it won’t be a good idea to collaborate with a lot of people. In today’s world, a team does not always mean people sitting with you. It could mean people in different geographies as well. So, it becomes a challenge sometimes to coordinate with various parties and deliver the output within a stipulated time.

 What do want to learn out of it?

Always consider what do you want to learn from an assignment? Ask yourself if you want to understand group dynamics and learn to handle different behaviours or do you wish to learn working independently? The project will come to an end, but your learning will stay with you forever. So make an optimal choice of what you would like to learn.

 Which skill is more important for you in the long term?

Both teamwork and individual contribution can equip you with various skills. If you think you want to handle complex projects in the long term which are large in scale and size, it is always better to start working in a team from the beginning. Effective teamwork allows people to achieve project goals which are too complex for an individual to do alone. On the contrary, if you want to focus on small but very niche and specialized assignments, go as an individual.

While you answer the above questions in order to decide which role suits you better, there are ceveats of working in a team and contributing individually.

 For teamwork:

 Are you ready to share success?

Project success is not your success alone. It needs to be shared with everyone. There could be times you would have contributed more than any other individual in an assignment, but you should be prepared to share the success. Once you decide to work in a team, you cannot boast later of your greater role in the project. Teamwork brings great pleasure when people who you work with grow along with you. However, if a project fails, you are equally accountable. There is no backing up by letting others know that you contributed very little.

 Are you ready for controversies?

Teamwork is not a cakewalk. There will be different people trying to prove (sometimes impose) their points. You should be ready to handle the disagreements that come along with teamwork. If you decide to be part of a team, learn the art of ‘strategic handling’. Handle situations in a manner that the overall objective of the assignment is not hampered. Listen to everyone and try to resolve the issues as soon as possible.

 Are you emphatic?

While working on an assignment, a team member could fall ill or there could be another emergency at his/her end. You must be ready to let your team member go at that particular moment. You must be ready to put that extra bit in the project. You become a great team member when you consider everyone as equal.

 For individual contribution:

 Are you really sure?

First and the foremost thing for an individual’s contribution is to be 200% sure. It is not an easy game. You are responsible and accountable from start to end. You are the only person who will take care of the smallest as well as the most crucial of things. And the catch is, once you are in, there is no looking back. You have to stick till the end, come what may. So, be sure if you are really a person who can swim the waves without hesitation.

 Will you be able to handle crisis situations?

A crisis can occur to teams or individual contributors. But in contrast to a team, an individual contributor has to deal with such situations alone. Although these situations are very valuable for the lessons learnt from them, the question is, do you have the commitment, attitude, will and the zeal to outperform a crisis situation? If yes, you have a long way to go.

 Can you sustain it?

Individual contribution looks fancy in the early stages of your career. This is mainly due to high energy levels, less number of assignments and the sheer joy of success and appreciation. But in the long term, be an individual contributor only when you can sustain it. When you grow in your role, you want people around you to help you. Even a king has his people with him to run the kingdom.

 You are not always a individual contributor and not always a team player. You can play both roles. The choice is yours!

Contributed By : Virag Jain ( Class of 2010, IBS Mumbai).

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