Work must drain the life-force out of your body – mustn’t it?

11 10 2010

I sat in a room with a group of colleagues today, as we reviewed the results of a very simple online test. The test in question was out of a book and wasn’t even pretending to be psychometrically robust, but it did throw up some interesting results. The most significant of these was that 10 out of the 12 people in the room scored highest on preferring being outdoors to just about anything else.

Why this was so interesting was simply because any researcher studying how we actually all spent our working weeks would have required psychic powers to guess that so many of us had this powerful preference for being outdoors. Such a researcher would have been more likely to guess that sitting at a desk and putting in the hours was the highest good in our personal economies.

I am not for a moment suggesting that all people want to be outdoors – that just happened to be the strong preference for this group – nor that their job responsibilities could allow them to spend all their time away from their desks. But it is significant that very many of us, whatever our preferences, seem to take little or no account of them in designing our working week. As one of my colleagues said, “just getting outside and walking up this downtown street for 5 minutes is enough to clear my head”.

So why don’t we take more account of what keeps us clear-headed and motivated? Or do we believe the lie that work is meant to be demoralising and energy-sapping? Here are two questions to ask yourself – and then your colleagues:

1) to what extent do I design my work around what keeps me engaged and energised?

2) to what extent can I actually articulate my motivations and preferences clearly enough to make  1) a possibility?

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The end of teamwork as we know it?

8 10 2010

It is with great relief that I note the demise of teamwork as an unquestionable good.

I had better say that again: the secret is out, teamwork is not, in and of itself, a fundamental principle of the universe. Don’t get me wrong – I am personally wired in such a way that I really enjoy working as part of a team. And there are some tasks where teamworking is the best way of getting the best work done. But not always!

Books like Why Work Sucks and Speed Lead are challenging the enormous waste of time which is imposed by organisations assuming that every job requires a team to do it. The latter makes a useful distinction between a team and a workgroup, where members of the latter often complete a stage in a task and then pass it on to the next member of the workgroup. So yes, Person A and Person B need to have a conversation at the handover point; that isn’t the same as making them sit through a three hour meeting every week to listen to other people describing handovers in which they have no immediate interest.

If we could lose unnecessary teamwork, we might get some excitement back about the power of the team when it is genuinely the best way to get things done!