No one who has ever worked for a corporation could fail to be aware of a certain “turf consciousness” as various departments – and individuals within those departments – compete for attention and power. There are two myths involved in turf consciousness.
1. The “team concept”
That’s the one that portrays corporate life as a sports metaphor, where every individual has a specific job to do but works seamlessly with everyone else as part of a unit with the same goal: winning the game (read: “making a lot of money”). According to the myth, “teamwork” increases efficiency and corporate harmony by honoring the value of everyone’s contribution equally, and subsuming private goals to the overall good of the team. The idea is expressed in one of two ways:
- The only “turf” that matters is the turf of the playing field where the game is being fought. It is common to everyone and no single individual or group controls it. Therefore, fighting over control of it is counter-productive and inefficient.
- The game can only be won if the team works together. Fighting over prerogatives, perks, and power serves to fragment the team effort, weakening it with jealousy, internal strife, and hurt feelings, effectively sabotaging the team’s efforts.
There are a number of corporate fads swirling around the concept of building teamwork. My sister-in-law, for example, runs corporate Team-Building Weekends on ropes-challenge courses in which junior executives learn to work together on an obstacle course consisting of rope-ladders, rope bridges, trapezes, and simulated cliffs. Most of it happens in trees, 20 feet or more above the ground. The course is designed to make it difficult or even impossible for an individual to succeed alone but a snap if the group works together. It’s a very sophisticated version of the kind of obstacle course the military uses during basic training. She makes a good deal of money running these weekends.
Then there was the “dragon boat racing” craze of a few years ago. Adapted from the Chinese, dragon boat racing requires participants to row and steer together. If they argue, they lose.
The latest of these fads was adapted, believe it or not, from acting and improvisational exercises. Two of these exercises were on view last year in tv programs, an episode of What About Brian? and a teaser for Donald Trump’s new Apprentice.
The point of all these is to build trust between the participants and break down the walls of competitive ego by forcing the subjects to co-operate with each other. Does it work?
The short answer is, of course, No.