When I sing “The Victors” or read the University’s mission statement, I always think about how we might be missing the point. Both those pieces of Michigan rhetoric affirm the need for leadership, making it seem like leadership development is the major focus of the University. Leadership is obviously important, but our University is doing us a disservice by promoting leadership as a pancea without fully articulating the importance of teamwork. Why isn’t teamwork held up right next to leadership?
Even though the problems faced by our parents’ generation were complicated, they weren’t as challenging as contemporary issues. For example, a major venture of the 1960’s was the Apollo space program. Putting people on the moon was an unprecedented challenge at the time. But it was also a challenge with a clearer beginning, middle and end. The challenges of yester-year were easier to think about because they were more concretely defined.
Today we face problems with many layers of complexity, like terrorism and epidemics. Solving these problems requires high-capacity, high-functioning teams to solve. Individual leaders or groups of individual leaders aren’t equipped with the perspectives or problem-solving capabilities to tackle problems that don’t fit nicely into divisible categories and pieces. Strong teams are entities tailored to complex problem solving, because they rely on the expertise of more than one person. Teams can be as complex as the problems they are trying to tackle; individual leaders cannot.
In addition to viewing leadership traditionally (as a property that individuals possess and use), our institution should emphasize the importance of adaptive, engaged and talented teams. Since the University aims to develop citizens that “challenge the present and enrich the future” — as written in the mission statement — helping cultivate team dynamics is desirable because it takes teams to improve societal ills, even though leaders are usually necessary as well.
The University seems to recognize this to some degree, if the continuing effort to expand interdisciplinary research or the creation of the University Research Corridor is any indication. The effort to emphasize team development should also be adopted in student life initiatives.
But there’s more to a team-based approach than gathering up a bunch of talented individuals and throwing them into the fire together. Teams have internal interactions. Teams play off one another when they brainstorm and strategize. Teams balance the strengths, weakness and perspectives of their members. The beauty of teams is that magical word, “synergy” — when the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At the University, we should emphasize the great synergizing of teams just as we appreciate stellar leadership.
In other words, let’s make leadership as important as teamership, because both skills are important to cultivate.
It makes sense to think of teamership alongside leadership. Take football for example. There are many measures of individual performance in football. But determining the outcome of a football game by compiling quarterback ratings, tackles per player and 40-yard dash times would be absurd. It makes more sense to declare a winner by isolating a metric that accounts for the complexity of team dynamics: the final score. We should apply similar thinking to organizational life — it doesn’t make sense to implicitly declare leadership as the Holy Grail of competency. We solve our problems in teams, not as individuals.
Sure, measures of individual capacity and developing leadership are important. But teamwork is at least as important but not emphasized as much. Leadership has long been paramount on our campus. Teamership deserves some of the limelight and resources too.
Neil Tambe is an LSA senior.