Backlash against Teams?

Two articles does not make a trend, but I can’t help but notice that two of my favorite sources of business literature (ones that tend to be supportive of my approach to the “human side” of organizations) have recently published pieces that seem to be “pushing back” against proponents of “soft” things like effective teams, and healthy relationships.

The first was the HBR article on the Great Intimidators, that I wrote about twice (first, second). The second is Jeffrey Pfeffer’s column in Business 2.0 this month that says if you want to achieve greatness, you might have to make people mad. He provides an example of a guy who made it to the top by focusing on the people that could help him and basically leaving others in the dust (which tends to get those people mad).

Pfeffer makes reference to all the “talk about teamwork” that is “in vogue” in business today, implying that perhaps it might be a fad and that making people mad “works.” But this seems to imply that teamwork is all about people liking each other. Pfeffer even says that his Stanford MBA students

…seem to want, above all, to be liked by their peers. They avoid arguing too vigorously with one another in class and tell me their goal is to build a network of supportive friends. They seem convinced that they’ll have great careers if only they can develop reputations for getting along.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. In effective teams (and effective relationships), people argue quite vigorously. It is a myth that good teams don’t have conflict. They have it all the time—it just doesn’t stop them in their tracks. Supportive friends should tell you the truth and getting along requires people to speak authentically. Not everyone has to like you, and I do agree that you can actually become quite a star and alienate large groups of people at the same time. But I don’t see this as contradictory to the work being done in support of team effectiveness and managing human dynamics in organizations.