The team with one member
I am the team! It might sound like heresy but sometimes the most effective way to produce something is not through collaboration but by just doing it yourself.
Collaboration is best for tasks which cannot be fully achieved by a single person - if a job can be completed best by one person then to collaborate to do it will only produce an inferior result.
I think some of the misunderstandings here, such as always work as a group no matter what the task, are down to a misinterpretation of the arguments offered by books like The wisdom of crowds.
"Crowd Intelligence" only applies to subset of collaborative activities such as some forms of decision making such as guessing the amount of smarties in a jar.
Crowd intelligence does not work for most other forms of co-operative work - just putting a group of footballers on a pitch will not make them a good team.
The Myth that teamwork is more productive than individual work
This is the title of a chapter in Why Teams don't work by Robbins and Finley.
"The truth is that teams are inherently inferior to individuals, in terms of efficiency. If a single person has sufficient information to complete a task, he or she will run rings around a team assigned the same task. There are no handoffs to other individuals. No misunderstandings or conflicting cultures. No personality conflicts"
If you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail
So collaboration is a key (perhaps the key) skill for individuals and enterprises in the future but lets not discredit it by using it where its not appropriate.
This article was prevously published on the bioteams blog on February 2007.
About Ken Thompson
Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities and virtual teams and has published two landmark books:
Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Best Designs
The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks
Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 600 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.
Bioteams Books Reviews
A team of one is sometimes best. It might sound like heresy but sometimes the most effective way to produce something is not through collaboration. Collaboration is best for tasks which cannot be fully achieved by a single person – if a job can be completed best by one person then to collaborate to do it will only make it worse.