Why Emphasize the Team at Work but Reward the Individual?

4 min read

The emphasis on teamwork in the workplace is nothing new. Every organization on the planet seems to have baked it into their leadership parlance. Nonetheless, the modern work culture still rewards the individual. It’s this dichotomy that often contributes to workplace strife, underperformance, and a whole host of mental health issues for people.

Source: Александр Марченко/Adobe Stock

Celebrate the individual or reward the team?

Source: Александр Марченко/Adobe Stock

Ironically, the emphasis on providing individual rewards can sabotage an organization’s ability to reach its full potential because it actually can undermine the teamwork and collaboration that every leader touts as essential ingredients to unfettered success.

Also, it can create psychological problems for individuals working within this current workplace paradigm. For example, consider these:

Conflict and Stress: When there’s a constant tension between individual success and team goals, employees can experience heightened stress and interpersonal conflict. This stress can lead to anxiety, frustration, and even burnout.

Low Morale and De-Motivation: When employees feel that their hard work and contributions are not recognized or rewarded appropriately, they can experience low morale and reduced motivation. This de-motivation can lead to decreased productivity and enthusiasm for their work.

Lack of a Sense of Purpose: Employees may struggle to find a sense of purpose and connection to their work when they believe their contributions are not valued in the context of the team’s objectives. This lack of purpose can result in feelings of emptiness and frustration.

Clearly, a new way of leading is needed to create a workplace culture that unleashes the full potential and power of its people in a more healthy and positive way.

The New Paradigm Must Begin With Trust

Making the transition won’t be easy. The changes represent an entire paradigm shift in leadership thinking. Virtually every leadership theory on human motivation, performance measurement, and reward will be challenged when we swing from individual-centered leadership models to collective-centered ones.

The key to a successful transition rests with leaders. The most successful leaders in the new paradigm will be the ones who commit to leading in ways that get the most out of the collective capabilities of every member of their team—and that begins with establishing the trust needed to inspire each person to give their best for the good of the team, and not just for themselves.

As such, leaders need to be prepared to change the ways in which they lead their people. Here are some ideas to consider as we adjust our collective leadership approaches:

  • Start With “Why.” Teams want to understand the context of what we’re asking them to do—put aside parochial interests and be about the team. By communicating not only the intent, but the reason why this goal is worthy of pursuit, is the job of the leader. Provide the “why,” and improve your chances of getting the “what” needed for achievement.
  • Stop Celebrating the Individual. Do away with or severely restrict bonus compensation for individual performance. Instead, put your money where your mouth is and create bonuses and awards that are specifically designed to recognize outstanding team performance. Further, establish and communicate criteria for these awards and bonuses that emphasize collaboration, innovation, and the positive impact the team has had on the organization.
  • Be Among the Team. Foster a work environment that promotes collaboration and teamwork by insisting upon, and being involved in, team activities. If you’re all about “team,” your people will adopt this value, too—and, begin to feel more comfortable about putting their competitive tendencies aside for the good of the team.
  • Keep It Real. Trust-building begins with authenticity. We just don’t trust people that we suggest are putting on an air or acting in ways that suggest that they have ulterior motives. If we’re asking people to give up on their personal pursuits (and, instead, focus their efforts on team success), they better trust that we have their best interests in mind.
  • Show You Care. Demonstrating to people that we care about them and their well-being goes a long way in establishing the work-setting needed for a team to perform at its best. Help people feel appreciated for their teamwork.

Just like any change worth making, the shift to collective performance will require the development of a new leadership mindset. However, once that mindset is cemented in place, a new kind of leadership paradigm will blossom. So, let us set forth on this exhilarating journey, driven by the belief that with each step, we are positioning our organizations to execute at a higher level, while ensuring our people are inspired to contribute to their teams with unwavering brilliance.

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