The ability of humans to collaborate in teams on large-scale projects goes back thousands of years, according to theories emerging from the evidence of excavations of ancient monuments. Ancient monuments like Stone Henge, the Egyptian Pyramids, the statues of Easter Island and the 3,500-year-old Poverty Point in Louisiana are often depicted as the result of obsessions by megalomaniac rulers bending thousands of slaves to their will. But increasingly, it appears that they were the result of voluntary community activities. The builders of the pyramids, for example, came from far and wide and lived in relatively comfortable conditions that suggest they were there because they wanted to take part in something bigger than themselves[1]. We see the same phenomenon in the construction of medieval churches and mosques. Moreover, many of the ancient monuments were cyclically destroyed and rebuilt, suggesting that it was the collaborative activity that mattered, rather than the finished product.

“Bottom-up collaboration” brought multiple social benefits, including trade, intermarriage, opportunities to settle disputes peacefully and technology transfer to these ancient societies – many of them consisting of wandering tribes and without any central infrastructure to bind them. Researchers such as Carl Lipo of Binghamton University in New York conclude that the people, who did the work, were also the ones who instigated it.

Rather than being just a tool for getting tasks done that are too big for individuals to accomplish, then, it would seem that teamwork is equally or more about the achievement of social cohesion – less about the work than the process and intrinsic rewards of doing it.

[1] Spinney, Laura (2018) Team building, New Scientist 13 Jan pp38-41

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