The A Team sucks

By James West

We don’t really handle the concept of teams very well in this country. The reason? We think it’s a big twee.

If I said to you: “tell me how you relate to your team , you’d probably feel slightly sick at the thought of such a chummy, americanised ideal as a ‘team’.

Well, gee man, I really dig my team, we get along swell and help each other out in double quick time.

I admit, I feel sick as well.

Teams are important though. It’s the reason why so many of the coaches in English football are from overseas, because they understand the importance of a team. Sir Alf Ramsay understood the idea of putting the team before the individual and was the last English manager to win anything. Football today is ruled by the star players, and despite having an abundance of talent, England has not produced a good team for many years. The Australians understand better than anyone that the team is everything, and will happily throw out any one performer, regardless of their talent, if they detract from the team. The result is that they generally win at whatever they put their hand to.

We make the same mistakes when we recruit and train IT people. We get the most talented, capable and experienced people in to perform a role, and we go to great lengths to test these abilities through interviews, references and tests.

At what point do we ask ourselves: will this person fit in? Will my colleagues support and help this new person? You console yourself by putting faith in the professionalism of your staff, safe in the knowledge they will work side-by-side and whole heartedly fight as equals with the latest recruit you have selected.

The trouble is, it’s naive of anyone to believe this will happen. In fact, it’s even more of an idealistic fantasy than the pursuit of a team ethos. Creating a team is tangible possibility, asking staff for unconditional loyalty to each other is folly.

Let’s go back to the recruitment process. Let’s for a second put our ego to one side and understand that IT skills are just like any other skills – they can be taught. Of course, some will have a greater propensity towards technology than others, and there will always be a place for the techy genius in IT. But a job should not be guaranteed simply based on IT literacy and prowess. The person in question might be intolerable and ruin the balance that you have within the department, and if this is the case then they shouldn’t be employed. Factions and individuals do nothing to enhance a department, they simply cause damage. It is better to have a group of people who interact with and like each other because they will overcome challenges better than a group of geniuses sneering at each other.

By all means, facilitate team building with a few social events, but it is ridiculous to expect people who don’t like each to suddenly become best buddies because you paid for a few rounds of drinks. Instead focus on the future and make a pledge to recruit based on the team, rather than CVs and references.

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