From Heroism To Teamwork

Heroism does not scale, as it prevents effective team work. It is a downward spiral that needs to be broken. In order to double the speed, it may first need to be halved for a moment. Engineers are brilliant in teamwork - once they are encouraged to it.


“Martin is an exceptionally skillful product development engineer. He is the driving force behind projects, as he knows the related products and technologies thoroughly."

When a client, salesman or the colleague asks for something, Martin just replies ”can do” without hesitation. And Martin usually ends up doing a spectacular job. Which then leads to even more work to do, eventually all too much, resulting in stress. Important projects get jammed because Martin is too busy or he has a flu, and Martin happens to be the only one who knows what to do.”

”This phenomenon, heroism, is extremely common. It appears every now and then, especially in demanding projects. However, this positive resource could be better benefited”, tells Senior Consultant Pasi Pihlajaniemi. He works within Etteplan’s Solution Sales. Pasi Pihlajaniemi has a long experience from managinging product development and leading account based projects.

Problems of heroism

”Heroism does not scale, as it prevents effective team work. When the downward spiral gets worse, Martin - The Super Engineer - has no time to document or communicate what he’s doing, which prevents the tasks from being distributed to other people”, reminds Pasi Pihlajaniemi.

A design engineer may accept a change requested by the customer without further consideration, but he may forget to tell him the implications on the time schedule and costs. And he neither remembers to consider or specifically communicate the technical risks involved with the change. Costs and time schedules escalate quickly if the risks are realized.

In the worst case Martin gets tired and burns out.

”It is of utmost importance to recognize the phenomenon and the situation. How do individuals act as part of a project, how does the project manager view the total project, and do the designers share this view? A remedy for this problem is, of course, well-functioning team work”, points out Pasi Pihlajaniemi.

Distributing tasks

”People feel a lot better if they are allowed to work in teams”, Pasi Pihlajaniemi summarizes.

”Martin – just like the any other engineer is pragmatic and objective. He is not selfish; he does not want to keep back information. Once being consulted, he is happy to assist. He likes to give advice to his colleagues if only he has the time for it. For him, as well as to all the others, a ”team” means well-functioning dialogue. One can ask questions and receive answers. The stress levels of the hero fall”, lists Pasi Pihlajaniemi.

”In order to double the speed, it may first need to be halved for a moment”, sums up Pasi Pihlajaniemi.

In order to distribute an individual designer's workload also to other team members, his challenges and tasks need to be described and divided into smaller pieces. ”You have completed the design of this part, is it possible to describe its interfaces? - Why not, I’ll do it right away.” Tasks can be divided, once the necessary information exists.

Harness the power of team work

Creating a good team culture is a far more multi-dimensional task than just removing heroism.

”It is important to get the team committed and engaged towards the goals. When it comes to handling problems and targets, certain barriers are unavoidable - why can this or that not be done. The barriers are tackled one by one, and the whole team is guided to solve the problems together. This is fun, and makes the team committed to the result already while working on it”, describes Pasi Pihlajaniemi the tactic he has found useful.

”Nevertheless, a third party is needed to facilitate and capture the solutions invented by the team. Communication and documentation are of utmost significance”, highlights Pasi Pihlajaniemi.

”There is a lot of energy within the organisation, once involved in a change process”, reminds Pasi Pihlajaniemi.

”People in some cultures or professions possess strong team work and verbalism by nature. But to the same extent, also lower pragmatism and objectivity. We are surely capable of combining pragmatism with functioning communications and team work – with slightly less objectivity if needed. Now, that is an interesting resource we have”, ponders Pasi Pihlajaniemi.

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Pasi Pihlajaniemi
Pasi Pihlajaniemi
Senior Consultant
Service Product & Portfolio Management