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Essay Paper on The Quality of Working Life

One common characteristic of the four major types of work discussed — slave, subsistence-level, situation-improving, and developmental — is that those in charge are currently encouraging, or at least are pretending to encourage, a “team” effort. In our organizations we find shift teams, operating teams, project teams, problem-solving teams, and management teams. This attitude and emphasis in work life results at least partially from our childhood conditioning. We grow up in a society that stresses team sports and teamwork above almost all else. Football, baseball, and basketball are the big three, and soccer, ice hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, and volleyball are others. In grade school, high school, and college most of us participate in at least one of these sports, either formally or informally, on school teams during recess, or on a vacant lot or city playground after hours. Even the individual sports like tennis, swimming, track, wrestling, and gymnastics that we enjoy stress team spirit.

As we grow older and spend less time playing an active role in sports, we begin supporting our local amateur and professional teams. We learn very quickly while sitting in the bleachers or in front of our television sets that no matter how great individual skills are at this level, if players do not complement and encourage each other’s strengths, the team is not going to win. The whole has to be more than the sum of its parts.

It is obvious that, with this background, the team model, one that fosters a thorough, mutual understanding of everyone’s role, one that stresses the best integration of skills, is a natural for our model of work life. Such a transition makes good sense as we see with developmental-type work, where it is generally a given. To our continuing surprise and consternation, however, a successful transfer of this approach to subsistence-level and situation-improving situations rarely seems to occur, on a large-scale basis at least.

The problem that we must face is that so long as this transformation does not occur, the desired shift toward new world type work will be impeded. Too many of the characteristics critical to the new world model are possible only in a team atmosphere where conflict is held to a minimum, and when that atmosphere does not exist, the desired characteristics cannot emerge. It is not that continual attempts are not being made to turn employees in sacrificial type jobs into teammates who complement each other in ways that allow the company to win. The advantages of such an arrangement are obvious. For one thing, teams have a better chance of coming up with the right answer. For another, a team is more likely to get a new idea implemented than is an individual. For a third, the team approach allows members to take greater risks in that they are not facing the storm alone. Also, a team effort provides more opportunity for stimulation as ideas clash and syntheses occur. Finally, a well-integrated team is generally capable of gaining much greater control over its situation than an individual and of moving more quickly and smoothly into the realm of new world work.

We all understand these things, yet our efforts continue to fall short. They fall short for several reasons. The most basic is that sacrificial type work excludes, almost by definition, the possibility of a true team effort. For one thing, team members have to be able to think and react. Employees functioning as machines are not trained to do so. Also, team members do best when emotionally involved. Employees used as machines are not supposed to get involved. Their charge, clearly and simply, is to follow standard operation procedures. The less emotion displayed, the better.

Another reason for this failure is the constant conflict that modern day employees have to deal with in work life, especially in sacrificial work situations. I am not talking about competition, I am talking about conflict, and it is not between corporations but between the individuals within a corporation. Competition has always been an inherent part of the team-building process. It is healthy. It makes us try harder, helps to develop our potential, and gives us confidence. We compete for attention with our ideas and actions, we compete for positions. But when the coach announces the plan of attack and the starting line-up, we put all that aside and cheer our fellow players on, encouraging them to do their best even if we are sitting on the bench. We are part of a team. We win as a team or lose as a team.

In summary then, if we want to progress toward new world of work life and an effective team approach, we must do two things. First, we must move beyond conflict as our principle framework for employee and unit interaction. In a conflict atmosphere, so much negative energy is expended on keeping others from getting ahead or on keeping them from getting even that very little or no progress is made. Second, we must discourage the politicization of management. Those whose skills are mainly political encourage conflict among subordinates as a means to maintain control. At the same time, they see attempts at cultural change as threatening, as an assault on their carefully constructed defenses. If these two conditions are maintained, the health of work life can be ensured…

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