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Are team projects like root canals?

Root Canal or Team Project: Which is Worse?

by Sarah Dayton

The American Association of Endodontists describes getting a root canal as: “relatively painless and extremely effective.” Yet, “I’d rather have a root canal than – insert even more painful event here,” has become part of our modern lexicon.

In business, a common painful event is assignment to a team. It could be a long-term departmental or functional team, or a one-off project team with an allegedly limited scope. It could have a clear mission, vision, and goals, or it might be self-directed with the objective of fixing an urgent problem.

That all sounds fine, but why then would a team assignment be less popular than a root canal? Teams give you a chance to work with colleagues from other departments while ensuring that the interests of your department are represented. The workload gets divided between multiple competent professionals and provides the opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills. If successful, membership of the team is a bonus on your resume, and leaves you prepared for the inevitable interview question: “tell me about a time when you worked as a team to solve a problem.”

The reality of a team project, however, can often be very different. First, your assignment may be in addition to your existing responsibilities, stretching your already stretched bandwidth even further. Second, representation may consist of who’s available or out of favor rather than whose best suited to maximize the opportunity. Third, without a clearly defined mission, goals, roles and responsibilities, decision-making process, and assigned authority, the team will quickly decline into dysfunctional infighting. Individual team members will either jockey for position in promoting their solutions or simply opt-out and play wallflower.

Despite the dysfunctionality, getting assigned to a team project is inevitable in your career. When the time comes, pause for a moment to recall the pain of that root canal, and ask about mission, goals, and responsibilities. If you don’t get a clear answer, and you have the option to pass, take it. If it’s more of an “offer you can’t refuse,” brace yourself for some rough weather ahead.

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Soundview Editor-in-Chief Sarah Dayton

Sarah Dayton is the Editor-in-Chief at Soundview. When not in the office or at her desk at home, Sarah can be found on area walking trails or patronizing small, local businesses. She is also a board member of the local land trust. Sarah and her husband, Sam, are “empty nesters” and currently share their 1824 Chester County, PA farmhouse with two spoiled basset hounds.

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