Being a ‘Good Team Player’ Has One Huge Downside

Working bees
Florin Tirlea—Getty Images

You can indeed have too much of a good thing.

If teamwork is good, more teamwork must be better, right?

That might sound logical, but it’s actually not the case. In fact, new evidence suggests that worker productivity is suffering from an over-reliance on teamwork. And if you’re a better team player, you’re actually at greater risk.

Think about it: How many times have you been pulled away from a project to attend a meeting or address a group email? If the answer is “too many,” you’re not alone. And the downside is that workers aren’t being left with enough time to do their own work.

Workers now spend 50% more time at work on collaborative activities than they did a generation ago, according to the Harvard Business Review. Women are especially likely to be given more team-based work and pigeonholed into roles as collaborators, even if that’s not their natural work style, the article says.

But while earning a reputation as a team player might get you kudos from the boss, it will also earn you some less desirable outcomes, like increasing requests for help or requests for your advice or input.

Typically, between 20% and 35% of the constructive value added by collaboration at work is contributed by 5% or less of the workforce, the HBR article says. So if you’re one of that relative handful of employees, the demands on your time and mental energy could become overwhelming.

Part of the problem is that an emphasis on teamwork can encourage people to ask for help on assignments or projects they really should be able to tackle on their own. “An exchange that might have taken five minutes or less turns into a 30-minute calendar invite that strains personal resources on both sides of the request,” the article says.

What can you do about it? HBR recommends that workers learn to filter and prioritize requests, politely decline some, and direct people to other resources that might suit their needs better.

It also suggests some shifts in organizational culture. In one case, “managers at Dropbox eliminated all recurring meetings for a two-week period. That forced employees to reassess the necessity of those gatherings and, after the hiatus, helped them become more vigilant about their calendars,” the story notes. Future company meetings were shorter and more productive.

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