Friday, April 15, 2005

Team Work

I confess. I watch The Apprentice. I'm not big on reality shows, but I enjoy this one because I can relate to the different types of people you run into in a business environment. The first season was especially good, with contestants you felt could actually fill a high-level position in a Donald Trump company. The second season was pretty awful, but still entertaining. We are nearing the end of the third season and even though I dislike almost all of the participants, I find myself glued to the TV. Sort of like watching a train wreck. You just can't help yourself.

Last night's episode hit a nerve. Two teams of three were assigned the task to design a promotional brochure for a new Pontiac design. The team of three men spent a good part of their time patting themselves on the back for being so much more superior to the other team that contained two women and one man. They could beat that group with their, um, let's say right arms tied behind their backs. They proceeded to turn out a brochure similar to the kind you can pick up at any car dealership. Boring and predictable.

The other team, led by a woman for heaven's sake, got off to a shaky start. The leader had experience in designing promotional material. The other two obviously thought she was an airhead, but agreed to support her as team leader. Their support generally consisted of ignoring their leader's ideas and disappearing from the scene at 3AM, leaving their leader to complete the job without them. She stayed on the project until 8AM and produced an innovative, slick and powerful brochure (which incidentally Pontiac is going to use in their promotion).

Now, can you guess what happened next? If you've spent time in the business world, you probably can. Teamwork.

The all boys' team took a severe beating. The team quickly turned on each other, casting blame every which way for a lousy job done. They did have the grace to acknowledge the incredible job done by their opponents. Chris, thankfully, finally got shown the door. The guy has been a consummate jerk for the entire season. And how the mighty do fall. Mr. "I never fail" dissolved in tears.

Back to the winning team. And I use the word "team" loosely. The leader was quickly pushed to the back of the presentation by her cohorts, who had spent the better part of the project prep time in their beds. The leader did manage to push her way back to the front and received some well-deserved compliments from the Pontiac executives. Compliments that were quickly sucked in by her teammates with gushing thanks. Of course, we viewers all know who deserved the kudos. (One can only hope that word got back to the Donald.)

I said all that to say this. Earlier this week I mentioned the meeting where I spat some venom toward a "teammate". I don't care how liberated the business world gets, there is always an element of "how could a woman" or "how could someone with a lesser degree than mine" have a good idea? The male with the superior degree spreads his colorful feathers and sounds his crow regardless of whether he has an idea one in his head. He usually "participates" by criticizing. God forbid he should put his neck on the line with an original idea that might get shot down by an "inferior" teammate who can think outside the box.

And then there's the "superior" teammate who brushes off or talks over a teammate's suggestion, only to rephrase the idea and present it as his own 10 minutes later. If I only had a $1 for every time that's happened to me, I could start preparing for early retirement. At this point in my life, I usually call them on it in front of the group, but in my sweet, demure days I got stomped on alot.

We live in a time of "me". The concept of team hardly exists any more, that I can see. Every one is so busy trying to get credit for themselves that the needs of the many no longer count. Loyalty to a company is pretty much nonexistent these days. And loyalty to the employee is teetering on extinction. For the good of the company is only important if it benefits "me". And "me" is available to the next best offer. You can't blame employers for developing a callous regard for these types.

It's really sad. I've worked for the same company for 30 years and I still feel a part of its lifeblood. We are unique in that a good portion of our employees have worked here for more than 15 years on average. There's still a faint trace of a family feeling here that you don't find many places. But the younger folks that come through here never get the opportunity to know how it feels to have business roots. They've been taught to keep moving, to take care of yourself and only yourself. They never cross the line into "teamwork" for the betterment of the company. They will always be solitary actors in a cut-throat world.

Yeah, ok. I'm a geezer. But I like the view a lot better from my vantage point. We're losing that central sense of belonging that helps a person become a stable member of society. I feel very sorry for the youngsters coming into the job market. It's lonely out there. And when the chips are down, your teammates will turn on you without a second thought, or grab the glory that rightfully belongs to you. It's the same whether you take a job in an office in Smallsville or you get a leg in the door of a huge Donald Trump corporation.

How long before we wise up? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.


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