Teamwork: embracing my bête noire.

I’m enormously suspicious of teamwork. Like everyone else who has ever been forced to work on a group project at school, at work, or for some social reason, my experience of working in a team is that everyone else is lazy, stupid, buck-passing, incapable of organisation, and that I become either pedantic and domineering, or just refuse to participate at all. I’m sure a lot of people’s experiences of enforced group work are the same, that’s why “getting to know you” games are so popular: they’re designed to give you a sense of pleasant camaraderie which should overcome the stress of being told to try and share the burden of a task equally which a bunch of bastards you don’t know.

It’s also my belief that literally every other person on earth is unreliable, and will not do the thing I need them to do by the time I need them to do it. Either they’re unreliable because they’re busy, because they’re useless, because they don’t think anything I need matters, or because they’re deliberately, maliciously unhelpful. As you can imagine, this leads to enormous quantities of unpleasant nagging, arguments, and bad blood with people who are trying to do me a favour and as far as they are concerned are doing it well within the limits of acceptability. And I’m just being mental and annoying. And why do I need the thing done by Friday anyway?

Of course sooner or later you work out who is going to do a thing they’ve offered to do without making your blood pressure become dangerous: there are several reasons I use the same proof-readers over and over and not all of them are accuracy and charming email style.

Consider for a moment, if you will, someone whose idea of hell is “trying to organise people into doing something which is low-cost to them but will provide a decent amount of pleasure to other people”. I’ve co-run a self-publishing collective for comics, which died a hideous death because no one would submit anything: guaranteed publication and extremely low overheads, mutual kindness, and the chance to talk to new people just didn’t appeal as much as sitting tight-lipped in a corner. Similarly the attempt to follow up Help: Twelve Tales of Healing with an Icarus anthology rather appropriately crashed and burned, receiving nothing like enough submissions to make it possible to put the book together.

However, I am being schooled in optimism about the human condition by The Lucifer Effect; repeated demonstrations that it is possible, through environmental factors, to get people to behave like the socially cooperative baboons evolution assures me they are. I am trying afresh with a low-effort, low-commitment, tailored-to-your-interests fashion magazine/blog running on submissions from staff writers, etc.

So far, the results are not encouraging: two participants have been enthusiastic, one has actually provided some material, two have panickily declared that they don’t know how to have opinions about clothes despite doing it incessantly in my earshot, one has declared that a paragraph of writing and a photo occasionally constitutes a commitment, and the majority of the others are hiding behind furniture.

This leads to the question: what social controls can I use to get the intended result? According to the experiments in The Lucifer Effect, I would need to be physically present, lie about the purpose of the site in order to make it seem more important, provide people with intimidating deadlines (which has worked with previous anthologies but always leads to stress reactions as “write a short thing in six months when you are doing nothing else” is too hard), and rely on emotional manipulation; potentially, make it sound as if I were doing them a favour – the preferred tactic of salesepeople and evangelists.

I think it can be inferred that I’m not a leader/editor at heart, because none of these factors appeal to me at all, any more than taking sole responsibilities for other people’s complete failures to cooperate has appealed in group projects in the past. Whether this particular idea takes off remains to be seen, but I hope it does – if only for the sake of the two enthusiastic respondents, and the one great soul who immediately came up with the goods.

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