In the previous post “Team is a 4-Letter Word” the rationale behind the title is that the word “team” has been so over-used and so under-defined that it has no effective meaning. As an employer, during the past fifteen years I have seen the words “team player” used in virtually every resume I have read when the applicant has been under the age of twenty-five.

This suggests that all those applicants have attempted to impress my companies that, if hired, they will exemplify the virtues and attributes of someone who knows how to play on a team, for the team, and with the team. What started to make me skeptical that such an overwhelming percentage of applicants could exemplify the true meaning of “team” was that an underwhelming percentage of these resumes made any mention of being involved in any form of organized sports beyond grade school or Little League.

The ideology behind being a “team player” is that the individual sacrifices their own wants and needs for the benefit of the greater good, that is, for the “team”. Yet human behaviour at the teenage and young adult stage of life is influenced most by peer acceptance and sociological conditioning that takes its cues from the media. Sociological conditioning in the sports realm occurs by way of sportscasters, and during the past forty years that I have watched professional sports the emphasis of reporting has always been on the star player, not the team player. During this time, I have seen salaries of star athletes ascend to astronomical levels, yet whenever I have researched the salaries of lesser known athletes their compensation levels of been significantly lower.

The lesson to be learned is, only the stars make the stellar salaries.

So if the media has conditioned those young adults entering the workforce to focus on the stars, not the rank and file, and if those young adults who have applied for positions in my companies have not participated in sports after the age of puberty, then what can they understand about what a “team player” really is? It’s a good question, so during interviews I started asking young applicants:

“What does it mean when you state in your resume that you are a good team player?”

And the silence has been deafening.

The reason young applicants boast that they are good “team players” is because they have been advised to write this cliché by their high school guidance counselors, most of whom entered the public education system in their early twenties after four years of college. Essentially, our youth have been counseled on how to successfully gain entrance into the workforce by those who have been government employees in the public school system, are protected by union security, and have never applied for a job since their college graduation. While their advice to students about the enter the workforce may have been well-intended, it was not based on the realities of competition that exist for the kinds of non-skilled positions most eighteen year-olds are seeking upon graduation and for that matter, most college grads who don’t get their first job in their chosen area of study.

The high school socio-academic culture honors the individual, not the group as students are graded according to their personal efforts. High school scholarships, like sports salaries, reward the individual, and scholarships are rewarded to the academic stars, not the rank and file. Think about it… when was the last time you heard that a high school graduate won part of a scholarship that was equally divided amongst themselves and six of their peers?

The reality is, most young adults have no idea what it actually means to be a team-player because they’ve never participated in any kind of reward-based activity that wasn’t based on individual effort, yet almost all young adult resumes boast that they possess the attributes of something they have never been. So unless someone has represented their country on a national team or has at least been part of a group that won a provincial, state or regional championship, it’s time to erase the words “team player” from the vocabularies of our youth when it comes to transitioning from their school life to their work life. Having done that, we need to teach our youth a more powerful word and then we have to define it so the word has meaning.

I propose the word “synergy”.

In medicine, synergy defines how two medications working together accomplish more of the desired physiological result for the health of the human body than the sum of each medication working in isolation. Aararat Consulting uses this same definition of synergy in a parallel application for the corporate body whereby a group of employees, working in synergy, will accomplish more for the health and welfare of the corporation than would all of the employees if the sum of their individual efforts was collectively compared to what the group could accomplish when working together.

But there are qualifications for what is meant by working together:

Working together means together, everyone is working: no slackers, no complacency.

Working together mean no competition for personal credit or glory.

Working together means you can’t be a star because in synergy, there is only “us” there is no “me”.

Working together means putting the needs of your co-worker first, before your needs.

Working together means you help a less experienced co-worker improve their performance, even if by extending that help, it temporarily lessens your performance.

Working together means agreeing by consensus to benefit the corporation by creating symbiosis, not antagonistically refusing to cooperate if you don’t get your way and impeding the pursuit of the business by creating paralysis.

When a company begins to invest energy, effort and resources into synergy, then the workforce accomplishes far greater results than when employees act individually. Synergy eliminates complacency and apathy amongst the workforce because a corporate culture anchored in synergy doesn’t allow for slackers or antagonists. Employers and human resource managers are always looking for candidates who have the character and the traits to contribute to the greater health of the organization. Any young adult who learns the principles of synergy and can demonstrate they know how to apply the power behind those principles will be a star candidate for whatever job they apply for…

…simply because they’re not trying to be the star.