Impostor syndrome could be holding back workers and senior executives

Impostor syndrome (where we feel like we are ‘faking it’ at the job we are doing) could be holding back many senior executives from realising their potential – according to new research from Dropbox on the state of teamwork within businesses in the UK. The research, which marks the launch of a new study, conducted in conjunction with philosophers at The School of Life reveals that 80 percent of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and 81 percent of Managing Directors say they sometimes feel ‘out of their depth’ and as if they are ‘struggling’ in their role.  The research investigates behaviours in business that are limiting to great teamwork. Being averse to disagreeing with others – often seen as a typically British trait – is identified as a key issue holding back teams within British business. The data also claims that two thirds of British workers (69 percent) say that they aren’t comfortable disagreeing with others at work.

Business leaders are reliant on their teams to thrive, and the research found that in many cases, teamwork isn’t working in UK businesses. Less than half of workers in British businesses (49 percent) say they enjoy working in a team – something vital to the success of companies. The key difficulties Brits face when working in teams within their organisations are:

  • Freeloaders not pulling their weight (51 percent)
  • Teammates out for themselves (41 percent)
  • Managing egos (37 percent)
  • Arguments amongst the team (34 percent)
  • Being held back by others (29 percent)

According to the study, contention in the workplace is an extremely productive force. When workers withhold their contentious views, the team and collaborative process no longer benefits from a rich, diverse pool of insight. Indeed, the experts in the report believe that creating space for individuals to share their ideas and disagree with each other, regardless of individual status or team hierarchy, allows for the best ideas to come to light (and for the bad ones to be avoided).

Power struggles are also identified as an issue for organisations within the UK. Nearly all British workers (92 percent) report that they have previously encountered a situation at work where ‘too many people were trying to be leader’, with 41 percent saying they encounter leadership battles on a regular basis.

But what aspects of teamwork are working, and what makes great teamwork? The key is ‘having a common goal’ (58 percent) and ‘working with people you respect’ according to the research, which was identified by 56 percent. This was closely followed by ‘having clearly defined roles and responsibilities’ (55 percent) and ‘working with people you actually like’ (53 percent). The futility of power struggles for leadership was also highlighted, with a ‘strong leader’ only coming sixth in a list of aspects that make a strong team.

When it comes to traits of workers that help make a positive and successful team, ‘patience’ (67 percent) is the number one factor. This is followed by ‘experience’ (61 percent) – perhaps reassuring for those senior execs struggling with ‘imposter syndrome’ and feeling out of their depth. This was followed by ‘fairness’ – also with 61 percent – and ‘helpfulness’ (59 percent).

The research supports a new report by The School of Life and Dropbox, which aims to help break down barriers and encourage team success by applying a philosophical lens to the vices and virtues of teamwork. It identifies clear parallels between human behaviour today and those of ancient history, and identifies learnings that can be taken, and how these teachings can be successfully applied.

Jennifer Brook, Lead Design and Teams Researcher at Dropbox commented: “Teamwork is one of the most vital assets for organisations – and the research shows that in many cases, it simply isn’t working. Organisations need to embrace the benefits of teamwork – and address the issues that exist – in order to harness and unleash the creativity of those working within teams. Only then can they ensure everyone is achieving what is possible and thriving within their team rather than being held back.

“While technology has evolved beyond recognition in the past 20 years, let alone 2,000 years, the fundamentals of people working together have not changed in that period. We partnered with The School of Life to create a study that applies a historical and philosophical lens to their organisation, while showing what businesses and teams can learn from the mistakes of the past.”

Brennan Jacoby, Philosopher at The School of Life commented: “The brainstorm has enjoyed pride of place for a long time in our understanding of how successful teams collaborate.

However, studies show – and common sense confirms – that trying to generate compelling new ideas together, in the same physical space, at the same time, is pretty much always ineffective.  In contrast, online collaboration where individuals contribute to projects independently and over time performs far better.

“The reason is that it allows us all the time to go away and reflect alone, before putting our thoughts down. Creative thinking and good collaboration in groups requires, as a critical component, that we are able to go away and have enough time to reflect alone, in solitude – before sharing our thoughts. Where collaboration is concerned, it matters not only who comes together – but how they come together.”

The full report can be viewed HERE