Business is a contact sport

Columnist Jeremy Pollard, CET, believes in a good team approach when preparing to work within global economies that demand it. But can working better as a team stem the flow of overseas jobs?

By Jeremy Pollard, CET, Columnist

EARLIER THIS winter, the Canadian team won the gold medal in the World Junior Hockey Championships...again. As many of you know, I’m a proud Canuck.

No one expected the Canadian hockey team to do very well, let alone win. The U.S. team, however, was expected to finish first; the idea of not even winning a medal was inconceivable. The team had lots of talent, but its inability to work together did it in.

This brings to mind team effort in other disciplines. What about your “team?” There are good reasons to evaluate your current environment. I’m not saying you have to, but it might be in your best interests to at least have a look. These concepts work as well in business as they do in sports.

For instance, Japan has pounded the table about the team approach for years. Now, they've also decided to recognize their technicians. “Japan is turning to hyper-skilled supaa ginosha, or super technicians, to preserve its manufacturing edge,” was the theme of a recent Business Week article. The article makes clear that Japan’s team approach needs some changes. “Manufacturing in Japan faces two threats: the menacing power of cheap Chinese labor and a profound demographic shift at home.” Doesn't that sound familiar?

"We all know a guy who keeps his own notes, and won’t share because he’s afraid of losing his perceived value. He has to do this because, at least in his mind, there is no team."

It’s OK to have one or more highly skilled team members. However, it’s a bit distorted for some companies to equate skill level with seniority when building teams. I mean no disrespect to our profession’s senior members—I’m one of them—but the attitude that “how long you’ve worked here means you’re the best” is off the mark. There are a lot of young and accomplished people in our technical world who haven’t been given a chance. How come?

Similarly, I saw “The March of the Penguins” documentary awhile back. It was a remarkable film, framed by the commitment and resolve of a group of “fish” that do the unthinkable to survive and procreate. They survive because they work as a team. There is no difference between any of them, other than gender.

Penguins do so much instinctively. We often do too, but sometimes our instincts don’t help. We seem to have a problem with that team concept. We’re afraid of losing things, instead of making decisions that can help our collective cause. We all know a guy who keeps his own notes, and won’t share because he’s afraid of losing his perceived value. He has to do this because, at least in his mind, there is no team. His fears of being the “next to go” drive his instinct for survival.

Shohgo Fukahori, Sharp's head of personnel, says companies must reassure employees that they can share their knowledge without fear of losing their jobs. "Once they really are gone, we won't be able to make certain products. We need to preserve their know-how.” He adds that Sharp’s staff successfully shares this know-how with their teams.

In addition, a recent column by Charles Wheelan, a lecturer at the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, asks, “Can India be part of our team?” Wheelan reminds me that India, with more than 1 billion people, is a democracy. Its rise in economic fortune has lifted more than 100 million people out of poverty, allowing them to participate in India’s economy in ways they couldn’t have done otherwise. The important connection he makes is that India is North America’s greatest potential partner (read: team player).

Wheelan argues that a successful India will buy North America’s products and services. While this remains to be seen, I think much will depend on how India’s people perceive companies they might buy from someday.

Wheelan argues that India will force us to be better at what we do. For example, the offshore automotive companies have pulled the Big Three kicking and screaming to higher quality, better products, and more advanced manufacturing. He talks about upgrading skills, and about North America being a good team player when it comes to embracing India and its robust economy.

Why can’t we do this? Maybe teamwork really isn’t in our vocabulary. Some 40,000 jobs in the printed circuit-board industry have been lost to overseas locations since 2000. Will working as a team stem the flow of overseas jobs? That’s not likely, but it can better prepare us to work within the global economies that demand it.

  About the Author
Jeremy PollardJeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Publisher of The Software User ONLINE, he has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 20 years. Browse to or e-mail him at

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