We are encouraged to be self-sufficient. To our detriment. Television encourages solo competition, Wall Street films often feature a self-propelled man as hero.

In the real world, this image is false – it just makes a better movie. This image – of the soloist - isolates us from how work should be, and plummets the rest of us into doubt. To be happier and more productive, we should be a lot more co-operative in our work rather than thinking that getting assistance from others is somehow weak or undeserving of the praise given to a solo ‘leader’.

Frankly, when it comes to work, we are playing the wrong game. Look at Monopoly. It is a terrible game. Very limited options where everyone starts with cash and gradually fails, ground down by one despot, leaving the rest despondent. Your life should not be like Monopoly.

Humans thrive on working together, setting goals, contributing to the success of that goal and the benefit of a cause. Contribution from others can also allow us to work with our strengths while someone else covers our weaknesses. A cooperative game features all of these. In Pandemic, for example, all players must work together, each using their own individual strengths against a global disease with one clear goal in mind: to save the world.

Cards are flipped over to set the stage – there might have been an outbreak in India, or three in the South American countries. Immediately the group discusses which mini-goals are a priority and while each has their own character with unique abilities, all pitch in their opinions about the strategy the group will employ.

So long as one person doesn’t dominate the discussion, everyone gets a say. Ralph suggests that he could fly to India, Mary that she should resolve the Brazil situation with Ted’s assistance, and the opinions are immediately supported with feedback. Mini-goals are achieved (or not), and the world is saved (or not) and everyone together celebrates their combined victory, with everyone feeling that they contributed to it.

Much of our work life is not organized like a co-op game. In their own work, Ralph and Mary might hardly get an opportunity to share their ideas with others, let alone the direction of $100,000 of company funds to enact them. The weight of responsibility and doubt would make them stall before they started.And to some degree they are right. Anybody’s first idea is often raw and untenable, including those of the go-getters. Ideas need assistance to shape it into something which can be put into play, and to do that, we need others, exactly like the discussion in Pandemic.

How do we achieve this? Just like any good co-op game. Open up a safe space where people can share their ideas on a project: what the project is trying to achieve; how they can contribute; is there a better way; can we ask company X what they did in such a situation – and so on. If nobody is allowed to dominate, nobody selfishly claiming everything their own, and contributions encouraged, then a good idea can turn into a great idea, and becomes very group-achievable.

That’s not the total solution. We still need the ambitious go-getters to get things done. That’s their strength, let them use it. The aim, and this goes against the competitive culture that we are exposed to, is to seek to assist without seeking personal aggrandizement. As Harry S Truman once said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”.

Some companies encourage this by timing everyone’s coffee brakes to happen at the same time in the same room, which forces everyone so spend their relaxed time sharing what is happening in their projects, and seeing how they can help out others’. Other companies make formal round-table procedures on their task force. Others still give members that are not usually in a team one afternoon to spend together to discuss goals they can achieve together.

This has been shown to multiply the effectiveness of the dominant leader models several times over. When a group decides on a goal that is challenging but achievable, then sets about achieving it, all members win, and win happy.

Isn’t that more fun than going solo?

Author: Stuart is a well-travelled, well-educated and insightful writer, content developer, presenter and trainer with a background in advertising, scriptwriting, marketing and training & development.

He has generated business opportunity solutions for schools, sports and businesses while leading teams of all kinds of personalities to get the best out of everyone.

Recently returned from six successful years in South Africa in the education and sporting industries, Stuart is keen to put his ample skills in writing, marketing, training and business development to best use in his home city of Melbourne.