The Downsides of Working as a Team
In recent years, many workplaces and organizations have shifted away from an individualistic approach and moved toward a more team-based structure when it comes to completing tasks and projects.
Some of the most obvious advantages of group work include the ability to look at a problem from a variety of perspectives, a higher likelihood of catching errors, and the option to divide a workload between multiple individuals.
While teams can be very effective, there are also some downsides that come with collaboration. However, because teamwork is valued so highly by most organizations, these disadvantages aren't often discussed.
In this article, we'll examine some of the most common cons of working with others in an organization. Each of the items on this list is discussed in greater detail below.
12 Downsides of Working in a Cooperative Group
- Longer Project Timelines
- Free Riders
- Personality Clashes
- People Who Work Better Independently
- Reduced Innovation/Lack of New Ideas
- Organizational Challenges
- Blame and Responsibility Issues
- Employee Assessment Problems
- Communication Breakdowns
- Overreliance on Meetings
- Leadership Issues
1. Longer Project Timelines
Many processes take much longer when there's a team involved. Much more coordination, work distribution, feedback, and general organization are needed when a project is being tackled by a team rather than an individual. This can result in the project taking longer to complete, costing more money, and consuming more of an organization's resources (e.g., stationery, electricity, travel, paid work hours).
Decisions can also be harder to reach in a group situation, which can result in slower progress toward goals. While thoroughly examining a problem from all angles and noting the pros and cons of each potential solution is sometimes necessary, too much discussion can easily lead to inaction.
I never found a professional environment that made the production of plays efficient. Teamwork is demanded, but there are very few teams.
— David Rabe
2. Free Riders
In theory, the workload for a project should be shared equally among all team members, but in practice, this is rarely the case. Some people have a tendency to sit back and let others do most of the work in a cooperative situation. Not only is this inefficient, but it can also breed resentment and lower morale for the whole team.
3. Personality Clashes
Even if a team is perfectly balanced in terms of skill sets, personality clashes can develop over time. Conflicts may arise due to differing communication styles and/or approaches to work, or because members of the team are competing with each other in unhealthy ways.
Regardless of how it begins, a personality clash can damage morale, reduce efficiency, undermine communication, and, in some cases, lead to factionalism (discussed below). While many teams are able to collaborate effectively, there's always a chance that even the most well-equipped group will fall victim to internal problems.
One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain't nothin' can beat teamwork.
— Edward Abbey
4. People Who Work Better Independently
Some individuals are far better at working on their own and don't fit well into a team environment. Others just feel more comfortable working alone.
These people are happier and more efficient when working independently, and their work tends to be of higher quality when they don't need to collaborate with others. Putting an individual like this into a group role may be a poor use of their talent, and their presence may affect the morale and productivity of other team members.
5. Reduced Innovation/Lack of New Ideas
Some workers focus too much on the well-being of their team and don't bring their own creative ideas to the table. This can result in a lack of innovation. Peer pressure may also lead some workers to suppress their own ideas for fear of "rocking the boat" or undermining a consensus.
Team members may also refrain from sharing ideas for fear that they will be shot down by another individual. In some cases, newer or less experienced team members might withhold ideas by default, assuming that only those with seniority have earned the right to innovate.
6. Organizational Challenges
A new individual worker can often hit the ground running, but a new team takes longer to organize and come together both socially and practically. It is also difficult to predict how long or involved a certain process will be, and this can cause scheduled progress to fall by the wayside if certain components of the project are interdependent.
Sometimes, delays are caused because certain team members may need additional training to fulfill their roles. In other cases, one team member or subgroup may be ready to proceed to the next stage of a project but must wait on another team member or subgroup to complete a requisite task before doing so.
7. Blame and Responsibility Issues
When something goes wrong, there can be a tendency for team members to blame one another. While this isn't always the case and depends largely on the team members themselves, it is not uncommon for individuals to attempt to distance themselves from blame and responsibility.
When a single individual completes a task or project and a mistake is found, it is usually quite clear that they were the one who made the mistake. With a group, however, it can be much more difficult to work out where the fault actually occurred, especially if team members have differing opinions as to who was responsible for what.
The work of the individual still remains the spark that moves mankind ahead even more than teamwork.
— Igor Sikorsky
8. Employee Assessment Problems
Because a team functions as a group and a group has communal responsibility, it can be difficult for managers and supervisors to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of individual team members. If a team is successful, for instance, how and why they achieved their goal may not be clear.
Which individuals contributed the most work? Which individuals were the most detail-oriented? Which individuals did the most to keep the group organized and delegate tasks?
If a project is successful, it's helpful to know why. Unless a team keeps detailed records of their process and each member's specific role, it can be difficult to achieve the same successful outcome in the future with a different team.
9. Communication Breakdowns
Communication skill levels need to be very high across the board in order for a team to work effectively. In practice, communication breakdowns are common and often result in inefficiency and a lack of trust between team members.
It's easy for an individual to forget to convey a single piece of important information to another team member. It's just as easy for an individual to misinterpret a teammate's words, especially if the group is communicating electronically via email, project management software, or a coworking application.
10. Overreliance on Meetings
It's difficult to run a team without having regular meetings, but meetings need to be effectively managed and organized. They always need to have a purpose and a goal or they can devolve into social gatherings.
Because teams are only effective if team members communicate effectively, meetings are a crucial part of most group projects. Due to the communal nature of meetings, however, it is easy for discussions to lead to more questions and tangents than answers and action. When this happens, additional meetings typically need to be scheduled, and this can further convolute the project at hand and slow forward progress.
In addition to conflicts arising between individuals, teams can also split into factions, where two or more sub-groups each have their own agenda or "political" stance. This type of situation can be difficult to resolve without dissolving the whole team and rebuilding afresh.
Factionalism can arise from a dispute between individuals as mentioned in item three, but it can also occur when certain team members have worked with one another in the past and inadvertently adopted an approach or co-work strategy from a previous project. In other cases, factions can arise simply due to shared and differing opinions.
Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.
— John C. Maxwell
12. Leadership Issues
Team leaders play a disproportionately large role in the success or failure of a team. Overbearing or disorganized leaders can make the experience stressful or dysfunctional for those they manage. Ineffective leadership can potentially render an entire team ineffective within an organization.
Team leaders can also sometimes take sole credit for work that they didn't do and present an inaccurate impression to senior management, which can aggravate other team members whose contributions weren't recognized.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Paul Goodman
Mohammad Hamidullah on January 03, 2020:
thanks for everything
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 16, 2019:
Good analysis. Nice reading. Thanks.
mauzen on September 25, 2019:
when was this book published
David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 17, 2018:
These are valid points. Yes, teams CAN be effective, but I doubt they are in the majority. You didn't mention the A or S words-- Agile or Scrum, but these methodologies have been jumped on by management, partly because they generate numbers and allow micromanagement of the process from above without actually managing the project. Yes, I've spent a few years in team environments and on the odd occasion when a team performed exceptionally well, the individuals were "parceled" out to other teams to "infect" those teams with the proper behavior. Like as not, the individuals were dumbed down to their new team's level. You may detect a certain bias in my comment ;)