Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | April 9, 2009

Team work vs individual work

Contrary to popular belief, teamwork happens at a different pace than individual-based works.  Or so my experience tells me. 

I work on several projects at a time, and this is a trick for getting around with different types of projects, and getting things done – as is this whole series of articles.

With individual work, it is difficult to break the flow of ideas.  It is said it will take about 30 minutes I believe before you can catch your train of thoughts back when you are interrupted in your work.  This is why it is best to do things all in one shot as much as possible.  Although I do respect the process of incubation of ideas prior to “the illumination” moment (aha!), I do believe that -especially if your intuition is particularly honed- doing most of the work into one shot before moving onto to something else will help you achieve your work faster overall. The constant multi-tasking we’ve been taught to do with the event of technology -cell phones ringing randomly, emails inflowing non-stop, etc- we’re underestimating how much concentration can help achieve and finish an activiy better, faster. 

When we talk of teamwork, however, everything changes.  Teamwork, by its very nature, is a work that must be done in pieces, in sequences if you will.  Although it’s possible for one person to complete the work of a whole team (I’ve seen it done), it can take considerably more time, and so this is why we bring teams together – to have everyone devote a bit of time to things, and therefore have the rest of the day for doing other things.  Now the concept behind effective teamwork, in my opinion is this: movement.  And potentially slow, broken movement. 

It doesn’t really matter how MUCH you get things moving by.  Take a volunteering group for instance.  Sometimes, I did very small things.  Like last week, I just sent out an annoucement on the activities we could have for the summer.  Already many replied, some even volunteering ideas and contacts about the events.  The step was very small — passing on an information.  But already, the team felt the movement, and as the psychology of waiting shows, people like to start the process already and not just wait. 

Many people ask me how I achieve so much, and do so much with my time.  The key resides in understanding team dynamics.  It is important for me during the week or month that I move one step ahead in ALL my projects.  To visualize it, picture a chess board with a line of checkers on it.  Each column represents a project or commitment for me.  Now my goal is to cross over the entire board by moving the pieces one step at a time. And while I could move one piece very very far and the others not much, I would prefer moving all the pieces by the same pace all accross the board so that each of the projects I am involved in benefits from my time, input, and gives a chance for others to also make such a small-step contribution, too.

In my opinion, the ability to have everything always kept in movement is the key to success.  Small steps or big steps, it is the motion, the movement, that matters, and inspires and motivates people.  The human person is a dynamic person.  A person of action.  Stagnation kills creativity, vision, inspiration, motivation, interest. 

Bottomline: if the creative process and work of an individual assignment or work may make it difficult to succeed while multi-tasking, the success of team relies precisely on this multi-tasking ability to switch between projects, fast, by advancing the projects one by one in little increments, but frequently, keeping a motion that inspires everyone to follow, and stay committed.



  1. Valuable idea to move a litle bit on every project and inspie the other members of the team to do the same but… what if some of them will only contemplate other’s movements and not doing theyr own part … procrastination, lack of interest, unstructured activity schedule, etc?
    I think that working in a team should start by setting expectations differently than working alone on a project. What is there for ME?

  2. True — it would make sense to guide a team through a process with defined steps and tasks throughout the time you work together. However, those steps can be small and therefore planned in a way where you can do many small steps in different groups to keep things moving along. The role of the leader however is just to facilitate, not to do everything himself and in that sense, when roles are defined at the beggining, it should appear clear that his tasks may be of a different nature than others — and therefore that their interventions are not of the type of sustained activity that may be needed for other team members.

    From my experience, too, if you work with a team who is ok knowing just a few steps ahead, keeping things moving is a great way to make it work since people see progress and feel good about their involvement.

    Being in a for-profit company will change things a bit however – deadlines must be estbalished from the onset since budgets are calculated based on that. So yes, milestones and anti-procrastination measures may be needed.

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