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You Won’t Succeed Because School Taught You to Work Alone?

Recently, I watched a video nugget that stated “the more time you spend in school, the more you are taught to work alone.” (paraphrase mine)—Video at the end of this post.

  • You have to do your assignment yourself
  • You have to write your tests yourself
  • You have to write exams yourself
  • Even now you have to work on your school project yourself.

Please note that I’m not disputing the fact that there is some schoolwork that requires some level of group or teamwork such as study groups, group presentation or term paper research work, group lab work, etc.

But in most cases, when you X-ray the outcome, you discover some lapses because either only fewer members or even just one person in the group actually does the work for the group, and they all present the result with an atmosphere of “artificial” harmony. Arguably, this approach is not tenable because it lacks the supervision needed to transcend students from a level of “artificial” harmony to true team spirit.

Have you ever truly dedicatedly worked with a group of persons to achieve a “common” target?

A team with a “common” target

The word “common” is in quote because here each person aren’t working to achieve personal goals but one common goal.

  • Before starting this blog, I spent a number of days trying to partner with someone to start a “coauthor” blog. At the end, it didn’t work out and we’d to reconsider going solo.
  • Ericardo tried to start a FUPRE campus magazine and recruited a number of elite writers for the columns, but up till now, nothing came out of it, not even a successful meeting. He’d to go solo.
  • Sometime ago, I was recruited by a startup (owned by a student) as the CTO but to even have one single “online” team meeting proved impossible, and the rest is history.
  • Not to mention my final year project. I was made the group leader and it was challenging to work together as a team. At the end, I had to work separately with each person in the group.

To achieve a common goal as a team or group, however simple it may seem, the path is actually going to be a very bumpy one. If it is easy for you, then there’s probably an element of “artificial” harmony lurking around somewhere.

Most projects and ventures are aimed at problem solving. The primary goal of Education is to equip us with the right mindset and tools for problem solving. What better way to solve problem than as a team? They say “two heads are better than one“. That means a couple more heads, and we should be unstoppable, right?

Sadly our educational system keeps producing students that are “Me”-oriented rather than “We”-oriented.

An examiner will sit on the squeaky chair in his office, sip a cup of coffee and adjust his speck to skim through the pile of papers on his desk just so he can majestically penalize those that copied themselves. This in turn imbibe a “fear of cooperation” in the students as they are compelled to refrain from doing so next time. They become self-centered and self-preservative.

But how does this play out in the real world? Well, we carry this behavior into the outside world, not truly learning the value of TEAMWORK.

Who suffers it at last? The organizations that employs us! When you are employed, you are most likely going to be put in a team managing a project or doing a specific operation in an organization.

Bad teamwork yields outputs that will be below expectation. As a result, millions in profits could be lost and the organization may find it difficult to launch another project, pay employees’ salaries or even give raises or bonuses!

DecisionTech had the necessary resources—the most experienced—and expensive—executive “team” (those in upper management) in the valley, a foolproof business plan, finances from investors, 150 employees, but they were lagging behind. While their competitors were making strides and progress, they were stagnant. Why?

Patrick Lencioni

In his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team“, Patrick Lencioni, with his storytelling style, reveals to us that when Kathryn was made the new CEO of DecisionTech, she spent time to study her direct reports and discovered she had inherited a “dysfunctional executive team”.

They had the skills (schoolwork) but bad teamwork. They didn’t trust each other and were more interested in their own personal status and ego. As a result, their meetings were slow and uninteresting, they arrived at no decisions and were desperate for meetings to end, and this made the company stagnant.

Patrick in his book further advises to shut down any “sabotage” team member or leader.

Anybody not ready or able to play with the team is already putting one foot out.

Martins Toritseju

Today, employers are more interested in the social aspect of their applicants while in school than their grades, because that is the basic area where students have the opportunity to be exposed to the intricacies of teamwork.

It may be the student union, throwing a party or contest, organizing an event or talkshow on campus, even coordinating a religious gathering, etc. Basically any position that involves some level of “working with people” to achieve a shared interest.

When we are me-oriented, we find it difficult to trust, depend on or work with others to achieve a common goal, be it a company’s goal, or starting a group project, joint venture or business, etc.

We want to be the ONLY CEO/ Boss/ Beneficiary/ Awardee. We don’t want to share the glory and prestige or split the profit! Our self-centered ambitions fuels envy and we become competitive instead of cooperative. We feel we’d be more productive if we worked alone—just like in school.

But this affects our jobs and businesses, startups, etc as it ultimately yields disappointments and failures, because to achieve SUCCESS in the real world, you need to work as a TEAM, as PARTNERS—not by yourself.

Work as partners

Are you familiar with these amazing quotes:

“Success in any field, but especially in business is about working with people, not against them.”

Keith Ferrazzi

“Poverty, I realized, wasn’t only a lack of financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people who could help you make more of yourself.”

Keith Ferrazzi

Relationship are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.

Margaret Wheatley.

If only the educational system will be upgraded. If only tests and exams can come in two parts —one part for individual assessment while the other for team assessment (group work). While this may seem farfetched, individual academian can step up to achieve this.

A “good” academian is one who maximizes the four corners of the box but a “great” academian is one who thinks and goes outside the box.

Martins Toritseju.

If you will like to develop your team spirit, you can take short certification training such as PMP (Projrct Management Professionals) or read books on teamwork and team building like “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni.

While you can watch the video nugget I mentioned earlier below.

9 Reasons why Many Educated People Are Poor

Now Hold On a Minute!

Didn’t you like this post? Permit me to remind you of this cliché  “I scratch your back, you scratch mine“. I probably made you laugh or taught you something with this post, right? So what will you give me in return? How about, say I don’t know, your email? Subscribe below and get a free ebook!


  1. Thank you Martins. I have been challenged after reading your writing on team work. You are doing a great job. I see an exceptional writer in you. God bless you with more inspiration.

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