How teamwork makes us more productive

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Most writers work alone, so you probably see teamwork as irrelevant to you. Nothing could be further from the truth…

By Ann Gomex

At a 1907 county fair, 800 visitors competed to guess the weight of an ox, with the hope of winning that very ox – a coveted prize. Estimates varied widely. On average, most people guessed approximately 37 pounds too high or too low. But the median of their estimates was off by only 9 pounds. This amounts to less than 1 percent of the true weight of the ox, which was 1,198 pounds.

When you consider all guesses together, the crowd was about as close as one could be. The crowd was wiser than any one individual.

Groups can be remarkably intelligent – often smarter than the smartest person in the group, as author James Surowiecki points out in his best-selling book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”. This effect is seen when you ask groups to predict who will win the election, to estimate the true project timeline, or as demonstrated here, to guess the weight of an ox at a country fair. We’ve instinctively known about the wisdom of crowds for years. Aristotle referred to this as ‘collective judgment’.

A team outperforms an individual every time. Teamwork offers many productivity benefits over individual work. Teams make better decisions, are more creative, and solve problems more effectively than even the smartest person in the room. Teamwork also gives us the horsepower we need to tackle big goals.

Despite these benefits, many people prefer to work independently. And we all need some independent work time. But when we try to do it all ourselves, we quickly become stretched thin. We only have so many waking hours. Plus, we can’t possibly bring the wide array of expertise most modern-day challenges require. It is far more difficult to achieve meaningful goals by doing it all ourselves, as described in this well-known African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

Of course, for wise crowds to work, their collective input must represent independent and diverse views based on independent knowledge, so we can avoid groupthink. Yes, individuals will make errors, but not everyone will make the same errors thus cancelling each other out. Collective wisdom is even more effective when groups are broken up into smaller cohorts which openly discuss their ideas.

Could you collaborate more?

Collaboration is important for all of us, including those of us who are self-employed and working on our own self-inspired writing projects.

Are you making the most of collaboration opportunities? What opportunities do you have to boost your productivity through the power of teamwork? Could you partner with a colleague or pull in help from a peer? Could you ask someone for input or outsource a task to an expert? Who can help you spot your blind spots? Who can you integrate into your all-star team?

No matter how smart or experienced or focused you are, you can always benefit from collaborating. An independent, diverse group will outthink an individual every time.

For more on how to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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