Ryder Cup: it’s not teamwork

Ryder Cup coverage in USA Today

It was good to see Europe winning the Ryder cup but I was struck by how much of the coverage was about the ‘teamwork’ displayed by both sides.

Now golf has always struck me as the ultimate individual sport. Each player plays his own shots and is not dependent on the performance of others, apart from in the total scores.

Teamwork is about people with interdependent skills achieving an common collaborative goal (what we call ‘spaghetti teamwork’). It is often characterised by team members working intensely and interdependent.

The output of a golf ‘team’ is surely just the sum of its individual scores? Watching your colleague play their own game and celebrating in the evening is not teamwork it is group work. It requires coordination, but not true collaboration. Each individual is largely independent and does not modify their performance to take account of what others are doing. In all cases golfers are trying to get their best individual score.

This does not mean that there is not value in shared spirit and support – just that we should not confuse this with teamwork in the delivery of the result.

This is a common problem in business where we call everything from a small group of people to a whole organization a ‘team’. If we label all forms of cooperation as teams, then we try to manage all effort as teamwork.

Teamwork is a particularly complex and expensive to organise form of cooperation, well suited to small, interdependent groups of up to six people.

For larger and less interdependent task there are simpler forms  – such as groups, communities and networks, each of which needs to be established, run and supported differently.

So a massive well done to the European Group, but please: stop calling everything teamwork!

Are you a golfer and have a different view about golf as a team sport. I would be interested to hear your views.

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