Too many books have been written on how to manage organization so that profit is increased, workplace morale is high, workplace environment is conducive and so forth and so on. Of the many items discussed, I find the issue of teamwork is really interesting. This is because big results rarely produced by individuals. They are delivered by teams. This has been well-understood and quickly adopted by the business world. They invested handsomely on team-building and those with the capabilities of gluing team members together were highly valued.
Strange enough, at the heart of knowledge kingdom, where research are conducted, theories are created and ideologies are postulated, many of these “management tips” somehow do not work, or perhaps abandoned or ignored.
Talking about the skill of gluing people together, the best selling author on Emotional Intelligence has this to say :
Yet, at least in the academic world, these skills are sadly undervalued. “when people come up for tenure review, the value of their contribution to the group gets no consideration.” Dr Engel adds. “These collaborators tend to publish with other people, usually their supervisor, and tenure committees blindly assume it’s the superior’s work – though these people are key. It’s a disaster. I find myself fighting for the reviewers to understand that the collaboration is in itself a skill worth keeping someone for – it’s essential to biomedical research. But academics from disciplines like math and history, where research is a solitary pursuit , don’t understand.”
The result: “There’s a counterreaction among younger researchers, who are sometimes afraid to collaborate because of this – which can mean they go off alone and do trivial or unimportant research,” says Dr Engel. “It’s creating an atmosphere of paranoia, an unwillingness to share data or work together, that’s undermining a scientific generation’s ability to collaborate”.
Goleman published the above quoted text in 1998. Yet today, looking from the context of promotion exercise for academics in Malaysia, we are seeing the same thing. Performance is measured based on outputs such as papers published, research grants received etc. Probably, in the interest of avoiding “free-ride” of some unscrupulous individuals, rules were made such that teams members are not equally rewarded. The gap in rewards can be large, by generously rewarding leaders while being overly stringent to the team members. Consider the case of publication, what would be a suitable ratio of rewards between the first author and the co-authors? How about the marks given for first supervisor and the co-supervisor? How about research team leader versus research team members? When the gap is too large, everybody would be aiming to be the number one. This kills teamwork.
Because of this scenario, it is sometimes hard to convince academics to be a true team player. A researcher from one university may be more loyal to his counterparts in other institutions rather than to their own colleagues in the same department. Younger academics are becoming more and more reluctant to facilitate the smooth-running of the department. “These administrative stuff, preparing for QA audits etc do not contribute to my promotion. It is not important for my KPI,” come remarks from some. This has created nightmares to those faithful department heads.
So, in search of excellence, which model is suitable ? It is not that straightforward, isn’t it? In some setting, “nails stuck out, gets the hammer”. In another setting, “nails stuck out gets the medal”. A balanced arrangement must be somehow formulated. And the academics must also learn, not only teach…