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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 08:16 GMT 09:16 UK


Smells like team spirit

Do you wanna be in my team?

By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy

The rough and tumble of everyday school life is about to get a little more bearable for some pupils at least.

Any child with the pluck to rate Beckett above Beckham will be greatly cheered by news of the government's cooling on competitive sport in school.

Leaked details of the proposed new National Curriculum, state that competitive games will no longer be compulsory for 14 to 16-year-olds.

Although older secondary school pupils can already opt out of team-based games, in favour of sports such as tennis, squash or badminton, the idea is bound to fuel claims that children are losing their competitive edge.

[ image: Training for a life in the workplace]
Training for a life in the workplace
For some the proposal smacks of a "loony Left" tendency to stamp out adversarial attitudes among impressionable youngsters.

And while many sports fans will see it as another nail in the coffin for England's sporting fortunes, the ramifications could be felt in the employment market

The message among employment specialists seems to be that competitive team games at school make competitive team workers in later life.

Team work, says Mark Hastings, of the Institute of Management, is one of the "key skills" for employability today.

A buzz-word of the 1980s, team work has become a standard part of today's business vernacular.

[ image: Real team work - this round the world yacht was called Global Teamwork]
Real team work - this round the world yacht was called Global Teamwork
"When writing down job descriptions, for most managers, it will be second or third on the list of priorities," says Mr Hastings.

For example: "Given the job of launching a new brand of soft drink, the number of people involved in delivering that is extensive and they have to work as a team.

"People are needed to develop the flavour, to work on the manufacturing process. What the drink is going to be called, the design and logo, needs more people. And there are the people to market it and sell it and serve it."

The skill is not restricted to service industries, says Dr Hilary Harris, a lecturer in organisational behaviour at Cranfield School of Management.

"Even on the factory floor there's been a big move in the form of a self managed team."

[ image: Volvo production workers - coming together as a team]
Volvo production workers - coming together as a team
Led by the Swedish car maker Volvo, workers on traditional production lines are now shaped into "cell-based" teams, which have authority to take independent decisions.

The method is used to combat the lack of motivation that comes from being a lone, isolated worker.

She also points out that the "social pressure" of working in a team helps prevent workers "loafing around".

And as business becomes more global, team work skills are in more demand than ever.

Language barrier

"When you are working in a team with people from several countries it's very easy to ignore what they say because they don't speak the language, or they don't work in the same way.

"But a good team worker will be aware of this and deliberately not allow it to happen."

Mr Hastings is in no doubt that the seed of good team work lies in school-age experience on the playing field. It has even been suggested that this explains why women are not as successful in management, says Ms Harris.

Employers are increasingly picking up on personality traits through psychometric testing of interviewees.

Learning responsibility

Giles Toosey, who runs an "event management" company that provides team-building exercises for executives, says team playing from a young age teaches children responsibility.

A former City trader, he sees a natural parallel between a workplace team and a rugby team.

"A good business team has a range of disciplines, that is more than the sum of its parts. Fairness and sharing responsibility are as important in the office environment as on the playing field.

"A strong rugby team will have 15 people with a complementary range of skills, abilities and physical make-up."

But as every schoolboy who has lost a game of football knows, team work has its downs as well as its ups.

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