Over the last few months there have been several reports of various high profile companies including Accenture and Microsoft doing away with the Bell Curve. I am absolutely delighted!
Across 13 years of “CorporateTheatre” workshops, one key learning that has consistently emerged is that the bell curve as it has been understood and administered by most organizations, creates competition within a team. While competition between teams is healthy and helps to raise people beyond their comfort zones and perceived competence zones, competition within a team can be severely counterproductive by blocking the possibilities of collaboration. And without collaboration towards a common goal and collective success, there is no team. What converts a group of people into a team that is committed to winning together is clarity of a common goal and alignment to a collective success.
Moreover, when people within the same team are competing for the top rankings, their focus is primarily on their own roles and not on the goal that they need to achieve as a team. It creates a situation where your good performance threatens me and my good performance threatens you, and makes us both insecure. People tend to get fiercely possessive about their own ideas, thereby blocking communication and converting the smallest of contradiction into conflict. As a result, time management, enjoyment of work, excellence, customer-focus, and innovation all suffer as interlinked, interrelated behavioural dynamics.
When this learning emerged from the participants’ actual behaviour in the workshops and the experience was discussed, there was often confusion, even cynicism. “But this is only a simulation”, some would say. “In real life, practically speaking . . . “ I had to remind participants that we were not discussing theory or hypothesis, but what they had practically and repeatedly demonstrated as natural and spontaneous team behaviour, given an environment that did not block the teaming instinct.
Strangely enough, as explored and consistently validated through the workshops, even when there is the alignment to collective success, a team is capable of recognising, rating, celebrating, and rewarding star performance, but in a way that energises the stars as well as the team, without adversely affecting the instinctive commitment to collaboration. This is also consistently experienced.
Competition within a team creates acute self-consciousness. And as we say in the workshop, “You can be in the most luxurious resort in the world. If you are self-conscious you are not relaxing. You are not enjoying it. You are under some kind of stress. Conversely you can be in the middle of the market place, in a boardroom, or even on stage, if you are not self-conscious, you are in a state of relaxation, energy, and freedom to explore beyond the safe boundaries of past experience.”
This state of relaxed, free energy, with adequate clarity and commitment across roles and interdependent functions, is the key to unleashing the full potential and power of the individual and the team, to hunt, survive, and win in packs!
(For another relevant insight into the dangers of the bell curve, please read my post on ‘Nurturing Non-Performance.”)