Teamwork Versus Individual Work

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Teamwork Versus Individual Work

Probably you thought about this topic, teamwork versus individual work, many times when you had to decide how to organize your employees work. Have you experienced both types of work? Which one do you prefer?

The choices that you make in this regard impact how fast a task or an activity is done, the quality of the work that is performed, the relations between employees, their engagement and their motivation.

Every one of these two types of work has some characteristics that differentiate them and some possible advantages and disadvantages. I say ”possible advantages and disadvantages” because these may be or not be present, depending on various factors, such as: how efficient is the team, if the team has dysfunctionalities, personal qualities of the team members, the employees’ competencies and so on.

In this blog post we’ll discuss about:

  • The unique characteristics that differentiate teamwork from individual work
  • For which types of tasks teamwork is more suitable and for which tasks individual work is more adequate
  • The possible advantages and disadvantages of teamwork
  • The possible advantages and disadvantages of individual work
  • The situations in which employees have to collaborate to each other but they don’t work together in a team


Teamwork is the work done by a group of people who share a common goal.

For example, the employees who are assigned to work on a project, share the same goal. If the project goal is to develop a feature of a digital product so it can accomplish certain needs of the customers, all the project members have the goal of developing that specific feature.

1. Teamwork Characteristics

Team members have to interact with each other to accomplish the goal they all share.

They can interact directly, face-to-face, or through different internet communications tools.

Even when some members work individually for some parts of the project, everything they do is shared with the other members and discussed with them.

Implies that the team members have to reach consensus. They have to agree on how they will act.

In a team that is formed to accomplish a certain goal, the members take decisions together. This means that they all have to participate in the decisions that are taken, proposing actions and analysing the others members’ proposals or ideas. Consensus is obtained when every member agrees with the actions that will be taken to accomplish the team goal.

Sometimes, this is not an easy process and disputes or disagreements can escalate into conflicts. Also, the group discussions have to be coordinated by someone, so every member has the chance to express his or her own opinions and contribute. Some members may be more reserved and retain themselves from speaking, and others may try to dominate the discussions. In order for the communication to go smoothly between members, it helps if the team establish communication rules, such as: how feedback should be given, how an idea should be argued/sustained, how much time is available for a person to present his/her ideas etc.

Although it takes more time to take group decisions, than in the case of individual decisions, the advantage is that once the employees agreed on what they will do, they engage in the course of the actions, because they are the ones who took these decisions. These were not imposed to them. Even when these decisions have to be approved by the team leader or by a person outside the team, they are the ones who created these decisions

Implies participation of every member

If a group is formed by 3 members and only 2 of them do the work that the team has to do, we cannot say that this team functions properly. The causes for this situation may be very different. For example, 2 members can ally against the third member, the third member may be discouraged because of the harsh criticizes he/she received from one member, the third member could take advantage of the other two members etc.

2. When Teamwork Is Suitable

Usually, teamwork is more suitable for the activities that imply creativity, innovative solutions

In a team can be applied different methods to generate ideas, such as brainstorming. Combining different ideas of the members, the group can create ideas that one person wouldn’t think of.

For example, in some marketing or product development projects, working in team could be a good choice.

When a project can’t be completed by a single person because of its volume of work

When the quantity of the work that is required by a project in a certain amount of time is higher than one person can accomplish, even if he/she has all the required knowledge and competencies for that project.

For example, it can be difficult for a member of the HR team to find and select candidates for 6 positions, for the same job, in 1 month, even when there are enough candidates. The numbers of CV reviews, the numbers of calls, e-mails that she should do or send could be too much for the limited time she has available.

When you need people with different expertise to accomplish a task/project

For example, to create a website you may need a programmer, a marketing person and maybe a graphic designer at the same time. Every one of them comes with their knowledge and skills that impact how the website looks and its conversion rate.

They have to communicate, collaborate and coordinate with each other to combine their skills and get the project done.

3. Possible Advantages Of Teamwork

More diverse ideas

Sometimes, the ideas that are generated in a group are more diverse and better than those of individual members, and thus the work results can be better. But this is not always true. Sometimes the individual ideas of the employees can be better because they are not blocked in team discussions, through objections, critics, fear of being judged, rejected etc.

The degree in which the team members feel safe and confident to communicate freely, will have a big impact on the team results.

A stronger feeling of belonginess

Another benefit is that teamwork can fulfil the social needs of the employees and create a stronger feeling of belonging, than when they perform individual tasks. They have the opportunity to interact more often and to know each other better. They can build stronger relationships and even friendships. The company benefits from this because if it has more satisfied employees with their work relationships, it has more motivated employees and thus, their performances improve.

However, this last benefit will not be available if the team is not united, if the members don’t get along. It’s normal for the team members to disagree and have conflicts at the beginning, when the team is formed, when the members don’t know each other well. This stage is well explained in Bruce Tuckman’s 5 stages of team development. If the team overcomes this stage and goes to the norming phase, it will become then performant.

Can contribute to team members development

An important benefit of teamwork is that that the team members have the opportunity to learn from each other. They have to complete a task or a project together and they have to collaborate, process in which they are exposed to knowledge, skills and competencies of the team members.

This is beneficial for the employees because they get to develop, and it’s beneficial for the company as well because it will have more competent members. Also, when it has more than one employee competent in one area, in case one is for example in vacation, it will not be an issue for the company.

The team members keep themselves accountable for their progress

The team members check each other to see where they are. This pressure from the team may make the members more responsible for their work.

4. Possible Disadvantages Of Teamwork

a). Disadvantages related to the responsibility for team results

Responsibility for achieving the common goal is shared between the team members. A team member can’t assume all the credits for team results.

This thing can be an issue for an employee who wants to advance. His efforts and contributions may not be well seen when he works in a team. Also, he may not have the chance to apply his ideas if these are not accepted by the group. More than that, even if his ideas are applied these may be considered the group’s ideas because they were communicated and discussed in the group.

Unfortunately, sometimes, some team members take credit for ideas and actions even when their contributions were small or insignificant.

Members identify themselves less with the team’s successes. If team is large, this tendency is more accentuated.

Those who have strong needs for achievement  prefer situations in which they can take full responsibility for their work results, so working in a team will not met their needs.

b). Groupthinking

Groupthinking tends to appear in the groups that are highly cohesive and it refers at how the members of the group think. They tend to reject the ideas or thoughts that are contrary to those of the majority of the group, or retain themselves from expressing opinions or ideas that are contrary to those already expressed and accepted by the group. They want to avoid conflicts and maintain the harmony within the group.

This term was used and developed first by the social physiologist Irving Janis in 1972. He highlighted some traits of the groups that are affected by groupthinking:

The group members assume that the group knows best.

They assume that the majority accepts or share a way of thinking. Because the members retain themselves to express their own opinions if these are different from those of the group, they don’t have a clear image of what the individual members of the group really think. Their consensus is false. 

The group pressure the members to conform. Every contrary idea or argument is rejected.

The team members spend too much time justifying /rationalizing their decisions and actions.

Facts or things that contradict their way of thinking and act are eliminated. The group tends to isolate itself from other groups or individuals.

Thus, they don’t evaluate the ideas that are communicated in the group and poor or bad decisions can be made in this way. They don’t take these through an evaluation process and they don’t take into consideration alternative options.

c). Teamwork may bring more conflicts in the working place

The team members may have personal/different interests or personal issues that influence the quality of the decisions that are taken.

Two members can have a difficult relationship or personal disputes which will make it difficult for the group to achieve consensus. This situation can lead to group division in two parties.

In a hiring project, sometimes, in order to evaluate a candidate for a position, in the selection process are involved current employees with similar or higher positions. For example, to evaluate the candidates’ knowledges and competencies for an accountant position, an economist can be involved to ask specialized questions. If the economist is afraid that the new person who will be hired could lower her own position in the company, she may oppose to hiring a certain person, even though this candidate is considered very suitable by other people involved in the hiring process.

d). Dysfunctional roles within a group affects teamwork

One dysfunctional role is that of a person who tries to dominate the group.  The group decisions may be influenced by this person.  Other team members cannot participate and therefore their acceptance of the decisions is low. Also their engagement is low.


Individual work is the work done by a person who has individual goals.

A sales person who has to make 5 new contracts per month, has individual goals. A marketing person who has to increase the numbers of followers on social media with 40% in a specific time, has individual goals.

1. Individual Work Characteristics

One person does his/her work alone, without other colleagues contributions.

The person organize himself/herself or in collaboration with others, but without sharing the same goals.

The employee who performs individual work is responsible for his or her work results and can take credit for these.

2. When Individual Work Is More Suitable

 Some tasks can’t be performed in team.

In a sales team, it’s better that the sales agents to have individual targets than one common target. In an accountant department, where are repeatedly tasks every month, individual tasks work better. The department members don’t have to create too often new ideas. 

It will not make sense for an It hardware engineer, who manages the issues that appear with the computer systems in a company to do work team. If you have 2 employees with this position, you will prefer to send them to repair two different issues than to constantly send them both to repair the same issue. You will save time and thy will be more efficient.

3. Possible Advantages Of Individual Work

Less time consuming

Because group discussions are eliminated in this case, decisions can be taken faster, without spending time in meetings and trying to reach a consensus.

More control over the work and results

The employee organize himself/herself. The decisions can be taken by him/her or by his/her supervisor, depending of how much autonomy he/she has in the job.

The employee can take credit for the work results

Even if the decisions are taken by the supervisor or with the help of other colleagues, the employee is the person who performs the work so he/she is more entitle to take credit for the results than when he/she works in a team.

4. Possible Disadvantages Of Individual Work

a). Social needs are less satisfied

When the employee who works individually has strong social needs, he/she may perform better in a team. For this type of person a team is what water is for a fish. He is more comfortable and satisfied when he can work together with other people.

b) Lack of knowledge sharing between employees

As mentioned earlier, teamwork is an easy way to develop employees skills and competencies because team members learn from each other, especially when they have different levels of skills and different expertise.

When The Employees Have To Collaborate But They Have Separate Goals

Between employees’ tasks can be interdependencies and they have to collaborate, but they may not share the same goals.

For example, an accountant needs the invoices that are received by an employee who makes acquisitions for the company, a customer support person may need sometimes the help of a technical person to answer a customer’s question, or certain reports can be made by an employee only after certain data is provided to him by other employees.

Let’s make a simple exercise that will help you improve these kind of collaborations. Identify all these dependencies and analyse if you have clear rules or procedures for how the employees who are involved in these tasks have to act.

These dependences are sensible points which can produce frustrations, stress, and conflicts between employees when are not managed well. The work flow is also disturbed and the results are affected too.

Sometimes the employee who depends on another employee to do a certain task doesn’t have enough tools or power to impose himself and obtain the things that he needs, how or when he needs it. The person on whom the task depends may be from different departments, they may have the same level of status, or the employee who is depend may have a lower position than the person of whom he depends on to complete the task.

This is why it’s so important to establish rules and procedures for these interactions. These rules and procedures are the tools that the dependent employee has to do his/her work as you expect him to do. He has the ownership of the task and he is responsible to do it, and in the same time, he has to have the power to obtain the resources he needs. Otherwise, you can’t really consider him responsible for the results.

Key Points:

1. How teamwork is defined
2. Key characteristics of teamwork
3. When is more suitable to use teamwork
4. The advantages and the disadvantages of teamwork

5. How individual work is defined
6. Key characteristics of individual work
7. When individual work is more suitable
8. What are the advantages and the disadvantages of individual work
9. When the employees have to collaborate but they don’t share a common goal


Let me know what are your thoughts about teamwork and individual work. If you have questions about this post I’ll be happy to answer them at:

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