Even those who are not sports fans are familiar with stories where superstar players end up on the same roster and yet the team underachieves compared to expectations. Individual statistics still pile up, but there are fewer wins than anticipated. Frequently, this underperformance generates talk that ‘something is missing’ with the team, or there are ‘problems in the locker room.’ Conversely, other instances show winning teams where the ‘sum is greater than the parts’ and ‘the team just has great chemistry’ and wins come steadily. The results are easy to see and measure in a sports world where wins and losses are clearly defined. If you are leading a team of high achievers in the business world, how are you gauging their collective output when results are not readily assessed by reviewing the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounds?
All healthy organizations do individual performance management. They invest time to identify the strengths of employees, work together to improve effectiveness, engage in candid feedback with empathy, set goals with clarity, and grow from a position of trust and clear communication. The process of assessing the capacity and performance of the people on a team is commonplace, and when done correctly, it leads to mutual benefit for team members and the organization.
It is less common to encounter organizations where time is spent assessing the combined performance of a team as more than the collection of individual performances. If team members are each performing at an elevated level, but collectively the team is missing something, consider whether the issue is a team dynamic, not an individual issue. One critical aspect all good teams need to exhibit is shared accountability, the desire to be collectively accountable for the intended result of the team.
Returning to a sports analogy, consider two fictitious basketball players, both performing at all-star levels. One player noticed a specific tendency in an opponent which would allow the player to have even more success. That player had a career-best night statistically. The teammate also had a good night, but the team lost. The teammate could have had several chances to exploit the tendency of the opponent down the stretch of the game, but the first player had never shared the insight. Great individual performances, underachieving team performance. No individual underperformed statistically, but the team underperformed by being dysfunctional as a group.
Similarly, in the business world, if two teammates are achieving at a prominent level individually, and yet they have no desire to be accountable together for a collective result, the team’s performance is inherently impacted. Managing individuals and growing team members to be positioned as high achievers is clearly a critical component of building a successful team. If you are handling that responsibility well and have a team of high-quality players, but the collective results are not meeting expectations, assessing the function and dysfunction of the team, rather than trying to individually performance manage the way to collective improvement, may be the recipe to empower the team to reach their best results.