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The Wisdom of Teams - 4 - Recognizing Star Performers

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(In this series of posts offering excerpts from the book, 'The Wisdom of Teams' by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith (Harvard Business School Press), the excerpts are in bold.)



"Teams are not antithetical to individual performance. Real teams always find ways for each individual to contribute and thereby gain distinction. Indeed, when harnessed to a common team purpose and goals, our need to distinguish ourselves as individuals becomes a powerful engine for team performance."

A key ingredient of a high-performance team is that everyone in the team has clarity of the same goal and alignment to the same success.  It is a collective ownership of a common destination, a collective and collaborative process of journeying towards it, and the celebration of a collective success.  If there is failure, there is no individual who is blamed.  It is seen as a collective failure and instead of the 'blame-storming' that failure often evokes, there is a collective assessment, collective learning, and collective determination to win the next time around.  In fact, it never ceases to surprise me that more than 85% of the time, it is a team that fails in the the initial stages that goes on to win the competitions that are part of the "CorporateTheatre" workshops.

All the same, many participants who have grown up in the typical corporate culture, initially express concern about whether individual 'star performance' can be recognized or rewarded in an environment of collective winning.  As they go through the workshop they discover some very interesting answers to this question.

One, they realise that 'team', like 'community' or 'society' is only a concept.  You cannot touch the team.  You can only touch the individual.  A team is a group of individuals who focus on a common goal and commit to a common success.  Without the individual, there is no team.  Collective alignment in no way diminishes the importance of the individual.

Two, they see that when everyone is totally committed to making their team win, people inevitably go beyond their comfort zones, and even perceived competence zones to discover new possibilities.  In that sense, commitment to the team actually develops and enhances the individual.

And most importantly, three - the team has no difficulty in identifying and celebrating the 'star' contributors to the team's success.  At the end of a theatre production during the course of the workshop, when the audiences applauds and tells the performing team what they liked most about the production and the performance, someone or the other in the team points out the star contributors.  For instance the audience may have found particular part of the set, or prop, or a costume, or a particular performance outstanding.  Without being asked to, the team often points out to the individuals who made it or gave the idea.   The individual thus pointed out may not have been very visible in the performance itself, may have been doing a relatively minor role.  The audience may not have seen anything stellar about their performance itself.  But the team recognizes and highlights their contribution, and this inevitably draws a great deal of applause.

When summing up the learning, the key insights derived are:

Individual contribution is not lost or unrecognized in a 'natural' team.  Rather, when the team is also involved in deciding who are the star contributors, individual brilliance is recognized and celebrated all the more.  In the process, the stars and the team get equally motivated.

Another significant learning is that while competition between teams is natural and healthy, we cannot have competition within the team.  Competition within a team destroys collaboration, blocks communication, creates mistrust, dilutes quality, creates acute self-consciousness, and ends up converting the smallest of pressure into stress.

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