Letters 09/24/2009

Sept. 24, 2009
Most readers enthusiastically agreed that the hubbub about teamwork is overwrought and overdone, just another management buzzword-of-the-month suggested by a well-paid consultant who works alone.

United against teamwork
Most readers enthusiastically agreed that the hubbub about teamwork is overwrought and overdone, just another management buzzword-of-the-month suggested by a well-paid consultant who works alone. Another reader gives a government reference for comparing E85 and gasoline.

Double-teaming teamwork
Finally an article that debunks the “teamwork” myth (“Teamwork is overrated,” Aug. 6). This country was built by individuals who had dreams, individuals who were leaders. I’m so sick of all this teamwork stuff. Yes, every organization is a “team.” But what is missing is a leader who assigns tasks to each team member and then follows up to see that it’s done.

Could you imagine going back in time and trying to send a man to the moon with the modern teamwork paradigm? That rocket got off the ground because crewcut, cigar-smoking head engineers were leaders that made decisions.

Leadership, where has it gone? Oh, it’s been delegated to the “team.”

Jock Stucki

I came to the same conclusion, that teamwork is way overrated, after working on “teams” for the past several years. It became apparent that one or two people actually had good ideas and wanted to get work done, and the rest of the team was in place to either argue, socialize, protect their turf, or needed to be brought “up to speed” constantly. It dawned on me that it took only two people camped out on a sand dune to teach humanity how to fly. So why do I need a cross-functional team of 25 people to brainstorm a solution? I recently came across an equation that describes the IQ of a team: Take the IQ of all the team members and divide the lowest one by the number of people on the team.

From the Web

If your idea of teamwork, or your management’s idea of teamwork, is to simply throw more people at a project, then yes, I agree it is counterproductive and will slow down the project. But if you study management and teamwork you will learn two important points: Selecting the right people for the team is paramount; and keep the team size as small as possible to do the job efficiently. These two rules are harder to follow than they seem and few senior managers understand them. They tend to look at any random collection of people who have been assigned a single objective as a “team.” Also keep in mind that a team can be as small as just two people (Hewlett and Packard are just a good example).

All good teams know when it is time for solitary work, and when to come together to review and share ideas. Brainstorming is another issue, but there as well, too many cooks can spoil the broth. The general thinking is that to get one good idea, you need to generate hundreds culled from a large group. This is not the best way to innovate. A small group of highly skilled people, perhaps two to five, working on a single problem will do a better job working together in the long run. It is, however, not as much “fun” and won’t require the hiring of an outside “brainstorm facilitator” or expensive off-site trips and events.

R. Chasm

All competent engineers, and even most incompetent ones, know that teamwork is a pretty worthless tool. You have one or two performers, and a dozen parasites hoping to grab some glory if it succeeds or avoid the fallout if it fails. But as Mr. Teschler says, it is popular with top management of most firms. Perhaps they got this idea from so-called management gurus?

Tim Mueller

More on E85 versus gasoline
In your review of the HHR (May 21), you ask if anyone had fuel economy experience when running E85. Well, you don’t need to rely on any one person’s experience. The site www.fueleconomy.gov, claims the following for the ‘09 HHR with an automatic transmission and 2.4-liter engine: Mileage is 22/29 (city/highway) and average 24 mpg on gas. Those figures are 15/21, and a 17 average on E85. So as you suspected, it’s quite a penalty. Based on the prices of E85 around Oshkosh, you break even if you don’t count the subsidies paid by our tax dollars as “cost.” Some modern Chevy Silverados get about 17 mpg average on gasoline and the owners are content with the 442-mile range from the 26-gallon tank. But the HHR has 16-gallon fuel tank for a range of 272 miles on E85.That inconvenience may make an owner think twice before “going green”.

Brian Anderson

Psssst. Wanna buy a car?
You asked if anyone wants to buy a car from a bankrupt automaker in your editorial (“Car buying in the age of bankruptcy,” July 9). Bankruptcy itself isn’t so bad. However, being bankrupt, owned by the union AND run by the government is exponentially worse.

Mike Cornell

Be the first to identify this item from a past issue of MACHINE DESIGN and win a fabulous prize, along with the honor of seeing your in an upcoming issue. E-mail entries to [email protected] and put "Gadget" in the subject line.

Almost no one identified this device from 1979. One reader thought it was a device doctors use to remove foreign objects from patients' eyes. Another speculated it was a tool from the 1950s used by polio patients to read while reclining. And one wag says it is the contact lens you will receive under federally mandated health care (and you only get one.)

In fact, only reader Michael Mobley knew it was used to examine the inside of the eyelid. It is called an Ocucept eye fornixscope and was invented by Dr. Seymour P. Kern. It was marketed by Applied Life Australia Pty Ltd., a company founded in 1949 in Melbourne to produce industrial detergents.

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