Friday, April 24, 2015

Words of Importance - Team-Player

This word (Phrase?) 'Team-player' is actually one of the well-meaning words in the management lexicon. It was originally intended to denote a person like a soccer player who, instead of passing the ball to a team-mate ideally positioned to score the goal, tries to do it himself in order to get the glory. You know the sort I mean. The chap who can count all the warts on your idea - even if he has to invent them himself - merely because he does not want you to get the credit. And if, perchance, your idea is chosen for implementation, ensures that he does everything to sabotage it so that he can have the pleasure of saying, "I told you so" to your manager afterwards.

So far, so good. The problem, though, is that the word is so ambiguous, so delightfully malleable that it is a wonder that it ever gets used properly, since it offers such boundless opportunities for misuse. I mean, it is not like you can put an employee on some scale and get a result like 93.7% Team Player. (Though, I am sure, the Internet will throw up some online quiz which will do exactly that in the course of eight easy questions). Nor can you say exactly how many errors happened in decisions or in implementation, thanks to the fact that someone decided to sit out the game OR sabotaged it from within. (If you tried, you would end up being asked why you did not stop it WHEN it was happening instead of moaning about it afterwards).

Judgment call - that is what they call it. Which, in personal interactions, ends up being more a roll-call of likes and dislikes. Of course, in addition, it does offer you a more palatable way of saying things.

Like, when you are on a 'downsizing' exercise, it is better to tell the guy, "You know. You are not a very good Team-Player. So, we had to let you go." Since, in human interactions, almost no person is  fully confident of his capabilities, it is a cinch that THAT guy may well feel that you are right, even if he verbally opposes the judgment. Just try telling him, "I had to pick ten people to let go and I closed my eyes and stuck the pin ten times in the employee roster. Bad luck to you." You will get sued.

On more mundane days, you still have this issue of giving raises within a limited budget. So, how do you explain why the guy in front of you is getting the minimum possible when it is not easily identifiable on the basis of technical performance? Can you tell him, "I have a low budget and, of the lot, I thought you were the guy least likely to complain if your raise was low"? Just say that and he will belie his reputation as the guy least likely to complain. So, obviously, he is not such a great team-player after all, while the others would be snapped up by KKR, if you would only allow them.

There are other - even more important, perhaps - instances where it can come of use. In interviews, where you have to select your wife's uncle's cousin's son over the others; in promotions, where you want the guy, who is impressed by your scintillating genius, over the others who dare think that even you can make mistakes sometimes; instances like that. The absolute delight of this term is that the respect, nay, veneration that it is given matches its ambiguity.

Of course, you are team-player enough to ensure that you do not use this 'Not a good team-player' argument against someone who is demonstrably very good at it. Sometimes that is the ONLY thing he may be good at and, thus, the one thing he is absolutely certain about. Rara avis such people but still...it may be your cursed bad luck to run into one of them.

I have only one request for you. IF you are delighted by the ambiguity of this term, please do not invite me to play in your team!

14 comments:

  1. Great as always!
    Am doing a refresher's course through your posts these days:)
    Thank you boss;)

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    1. Haha Amit I intend these merely in fun :)

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  2. it was a wonderful read Suresh! from your posts, it looks like you had a lot of issues with your employer :)

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    1. Not at all Debs. I had fun while working. These are merely observations from elsewhere :)

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  3. And, I thought that a team player was someone who could put the team ahead of himself. How silly I was! Welcome back.

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    1. It is just the ingenuity of human beings that can warp any idea to suit themselves :) Am back in Delhi but Bangalore is still a couple of days away :)

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  4. Ha - True. Then there is this stuff about lack of ability to delegate no matter that people are not exactly waiting in queue for you to delegate work to them. Bosses! But my practice head was pretty honest with me when I went to talk to him about these things being said about my reportees. He said this is all basically bullshit to hide unpleasent truths that cannot be said - you just continue your good work - sometime you will be rewarded.

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    1. Most jargon seems to be used to hide unpleasant truths :)

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  5. You should start a Suresh School of Management. Really, there will be a lot of frustrated managers lining up for a diploma that is all about real-world practice rather than some silly theories! Of course, you can always divide them up in teams and see who is a good team-player and who isn't - experiential learning, you see.

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    1. Hahaha! May the IIMs tremble at the thought :)

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  6. Team player indeed ! Had never thought about the ambiguity and the ingenuity of the term. Definitely worth practicing. Can you use that on relatives as well :)

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  7. To me this term would refer to a person who is like-able by all the members of the team and has built good rapport with all of them. And if you ask the team who scores high on various parameters, they would point to that guy/gal.

    Wouldn't that be a good definition in corporate culture?

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    1. Sometimes, yes, Alok! The problem, though, is that it is not always the popular guy who is capable of getting things done. Sometimes, taking corporate decisions will leave some people unhappy - if only because their opinions have not been considered correct - and the guy who wants to be likeable may shy away from tough decisions. So, you need a mix of both.

      My point in the post, though, is more about how people end up misusing these terms to suit themselves. :)

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