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Team vs player; an exercise in orchestration.

In the modem age of business, in which managers at all levels face a bewildering array of challenges, one question dominates: does a focus on individual goals limit team effectiveness, and visa versa?


The strength of arguments on both sides of the issue points out that team versus individual contribution is a fundamental issue at the heart of performance management. It determines the effectiveness of a wide range of management processes, including career planning, succession initiatives and the whole issue of compensation.

Certainly, establishing individual -stretch objectives' increases personal productivity and effectiveness, particularly among senior executives, who have significant discretion regarding their own output. In fact, this is the overriding management practice throughout North America and, to a lesser degree in western Europe.


The argument for the other side notes the benefits of planning and developing targets but suggests that individual goals are counterproductive. They create individual competition, and prevent the collaboration so vital to success. It is increasingly clear that, as business becomes more complex, an individual can no longer be solely accountable for his own personal success or failure. Each person depends more and more on a web of relationships, with access to diverse information sources and support from a wide range of specialists and resources, all of which takes control out of the hand of the individual.

Unless performance management is correctly positioned, a myriad of management processes such as career planning, succession incentives and compensation issues remain ineffective.

The result is a definite need for teamwork, with everyone working toward the same team goals. Team structure can make allowances for individual limits, focusing on responsibility overlap, cooperation, creativity, risk taking, openness and trust.


Although this sounds like a happy ideal, it's no surprise that teamwork creates its own problems which limit the effectiveness of a team. Mediocre performers can hide under the umbrella of team contribution. Shared responsibility is an invitation for critical issues to fall between the cracks. And team performance reviews can degenerate into a collective negotiation process where the boss is outnumbered and outmaneuvered. Additionally, collective responsibility makes the coaching of individual team members difficult, if not impossible.

Despite these problems, the volatile business climate of the 1990's makes high performance teamwork a crucial building block in the management of change. Teamwork, and meaningful actions that foster a high level of team effectiveness should be encouraged.


Although it is increasingly urgent to foster teamwork, it takes a great deal of effort to build an effective team; even relatively small teams are difficult to create and maintain. To comprehend the process of building a strong team, it helps to understand the evolution of job responsibility.

Traditionally, jobs were considered to have fixed boundaries, similar to tightly fitting bricks in a wall. Each person had a sacrosanct job description that defined exactly where responsibilities ended. Each job was an inviolate territory to be defended at all costs.

While this may have been relevant in an era of gradual change, rapid change and increased complexity mean jobs cannot exist in isolation; overlaps in responsibility are inevitable. Managing this overlap, once the basis of conflict, has become an essential factor in proactive leadership.

It's clear that we must now view a job description as a snapshot accurate only on the day it was taken. And rather than using a job description to define where responsibilities end, we should concentrate on defining where the job begins.


Beyond this core lies the manager's opportunity for empowerment - the essence of leadership. While some people remain tentative and inhibited by challenge or risk, others will aggressively push beyond the core. And when several managers are all pushing out the boundaries of the job, teamwork becomes vital.

The evolution of teamwork is just as important as the evolution of job description. Effective, team-based performance management works only where the group has reached a high level of maturity. Introducing high pressure performance into an "immature team" frustrating, dangerous and unlikely to succeed.

Like adolescents, work groups must go through several painful developmental stages before they become "mature". The results, however, are enviably worth the effort. When a group shows a high degree of mutual respect and trust, a belief in synergy, a willingness to surrender territory and a built-in drive to put success of the group above the needs of any one individual, the scene is set for high performance.

As the concept of team performance matures, the argument comes full circle; the benefits of teamwork in no way negate the need to perform successfully as an individual.


The final answer emerges as one of balance: performance lies in a balance between the individual's performance and commitment to both team success and personal success.

Perhaps Peter Drucker provides the most appropriate model. He describes the organization of the future as an orchestra- - a complex group of trained and talented individuals who work closely together under one acknowledged leader. The conductor chooses the music, establishes the timing and is responsible for the quality of the performance. Each orchestra member is responsible for his or her own instrument, while complementing the performance of all the other players.

At its best, the orchestra is a perfect example of the balance between individual excellence and team harmony. The result is beautiful music.

As managers in a dynamic work environment, we must strive for nothing less.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Burdett, John
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1989
Previous Article:Past president's address - AGM, June '89.
Next Article:Improving customer service: beneath the headlines.

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