The Risk Management of Teamwork

Workgroups get things done. An effective and meaningful involvement with work means being at least a good team player and preferably an excellent leader. A core capability is connecting your work with that of others.

Teamwork is also risky. The team as a whole may perform badly. Other team members can betray your trust by exploiting your contributions. A team culture can deteriorate into a toxic work environment. Hopes for respectful, inspiring teamwork can be disappointed. The emotional and career consequences of failed teamwork can be severe.

    • First, the stakes are high. Your team’s performance and your record of contributing to the team influence your career path.

    • Second, teamwork requires an investment. You need to contribute your time, energy, talents, and enthusiasm to have an impact. Otherwise you may as well stay home.

    • Third, teams are inherently uncertain. Every member of a team and every subgroup within a team have the potential to make decisions. Each can contribute to the shared mission or take it off the rails.

The combination of essential and risky is a tough one. Risk management generally distills into four strategies.

    • Avoidance. Avoiding the risk comes at a great cost because it means missing important career opportunities. If you do not own a car, you avoid the risk of car theft, but you relinquish the benefits of driving. If you are committed to a successful career, it will be very difficult to avoid the risks of teamwork.

    • Risk Reduction. You can take action to either reduce the chances that teams will fail or mitigate the impact of failure should it occur. Driver training reduces the potential for accidents to occur. For workgroups, active, constructive participation in team activities both reduces chances of failure and provides advance warning of problems. Being part of the solution reduces your risk.

    • Risk Sharing. Buying car insurance reduces the impact of accidents by sharing the cost with others. People will pay to reduce their risk. Risk sharing can bring peace of mind as well as improve your capacity to bounce back after problems. With workgroups, you do better by sharing your approach with others. A shared effort to improve team functioning contains the risk.

    • Risk Retention. This strategy means living with the risk. For example, an asteroid striking the earth would be catastrophic but its likelihood is very low and an individual’s capacity to mitigate that risk is very limited.

A resilient approach to worklife means managing the risk. Although resiliency is the capacity to withstand adversity, it does not follow that even resilient people should take risks lightly.

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