четверг, 5 мая 2011 г.

An article by Pierre Casse: Team work. Is it always efficient?

Here is the translation of the article by Pierre Casse, the SKOLKOVO professor, published last week in his personal blog on the Vedomosti Newspaper. The original text in Russian is available here.

A team of top-managers of the French giant Alcatel-Alsthom, which was the leader of the telecom, transport and enegretics market at its time, had a long meeting in June 1992. It took them many hours of discussions and arguments to make a final decision that the mobile phones market has no future. At the very same time Mr. Jorma Ollila, the Nokia’s new CEO, had made an individual decision to dispose of the company’s traditional business and invest all the money into the mobile phone industry. We all know what happened next…

During the latest fifty years we have been constantly told how important team work is. It is shown as if this is the main factor to bring success and, they say, even the companies themselves wouldn’t exist without it. CV templates at the web pages of such multinational giats as Procter&Gamble, for instance, are built to sift out those applicants that are not suitable for team work.

Meanwhile even a casual analysis of the world’s practice can show that, first of all, team work itself (even the work in the best teams) doesn’t guarantee high results, and secondly, all the innovative and progressive ideas are the results of an individual work of some outstanding persons, not a team. With all of that we come to an inevitable conclusion that it’s high time we all consider some other types of a team work than that one we got used to.

Let’s have a look over the human evolution as a whole and the history of some societies in particular. The distinct occurances of the progress have never been the result of the organizational work – the progress has always been made by the single person. And it usually doesn’t matter if this person later got followers and imitators, the idea itself usually belongs to a single madman – the one who was not afraid not only to step out of their shell but also to invent couple of new shells at the same time. Those madmen did question the well-known commonplace and invented new one; they were committed to what they believed into, and that commitment sometimes came to an end only when their lives did. Still, that were those madmen who shaked the world and moved it forward.

Now the world has changed. It was five years ago when a CEO of the one of the largest European companies told his employees in a not-accepting-any-contradictions manner that it is absolutely normal to be an average person in today’s world. You might guess, where that company is today…

I call it “the tyrany of the average”: when the decision making process slides to endless votings, compromises, and consensuses. The managers are working on a maintaining the good team spirit, instead of focusing on achieving some outstanding results. They take the path of least resistance, and there are more and more managers of that kind. Meanwhile there is another path – the provocative one – the path of supporting in one’s employees some constant unsatisfaction by the results achieved, the path of endless chaos, but the path which is still focused on certain goals. This is the only management style that can help get over average and platitude. It can lead to a total failure though. The best example is the managerial style of Steve Jobs. That constant unsatisfaction leaves only the cleverest and the craziest people in his team. It happened once that he even lost his CEO post. However the Apple stock price had a 40-times growth in the last seven years, and 1384% growth in the last five years.

One of the most successful Russian web-companies “Kaspersky Lab” has a rather odd internal motto: it says that it is ok and even necessary to say silly things in the company. Why? Because all the brilliant ideas were seen as silly things in the beginning.

It’s high time the leaders quit their old team and team spirit models. You should pay attention to people individually – some of them are ‘stars’, and some are ‘executors’, people who shold work at absolutely different tasks. Usually the ‘stars’ can invent a lot, but hardly can bring anything to life – for that you need the ‘executors’ who can make those inventions nonpareil.

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