, ,

Most organisations would like their employees to work in teams. Most organisations recognise that effective teams foster collaboration and bring diverse skill sets that are often necessary to deliver in complex situations. Hence each individual is appraised for working in teams and hence on soft skills necessary for it. The organisations also conduct expensive team building exercises where they fly people from across the globe to participate in them.

Yet, most organisations undo all the good work by building structures that undermine sharing, cooperation and more importantly, seamless interchange in roles.

To explain my point, I will take example of two games Cricket and Football. Cricket is a team game which is collection of individual performances. Each player has a specific role and his role and responsibilities.  For the team to win, each individual has to perform his role and deliver on it. And hence Cricket also has prizes for best batsman, best bowler etc. As against this, football is a totally team game. While players have clear roles and responsibilities, the game is very fluid and players keep on moving from one position to other and keep on interchanging roles. Depending on the need, a mid-fielder or person from defence would move ahead and even score goals. And there would be situations where a striker would be saving goals at the goal line. This happens in a very limited way in cricket where a fielder may don gloves or batsman may bowl in exceptional circumstances.

The incentives are also different in the two games. The teams play for trophies o championships and compete with each other. Either a team wins or loses. While in football, the players get their salaries from the clubs, they play to win trophies or prizes either for club or for country. An individual may win a golden boot or most valuable player trophy as against Cricket where prizes are accompanied with cash. The cash in cricket even for individual prizes such as man of the match or player of the tournament are shared between the team. The winner of the prize may get 25% of the total amount with rest shared equally between all team members.

If we compare corporate setup, the individuals are brought together as a team. Each member is appraised individually for his performance.  There are no rewards for the team.  But individuals get rewarded for their performance. Most of the time, teams have a team leader and sometimes hierarchy as well. Most companies have a 360 degree feedback from the colleagues or team members.  These add another dimension to performance of the team. The team may have no internal democracy and everyone may only be expected to perform his role.

So an individual who can demonstrate that he has performed well in his role and has all the qualities necessary to deliver in team will get his incentives ( based on his performance ) irrespective of performance of the team. The 360 degree feedback means that the team mates will get a chance to provide real feedback to a team mate which they would not have shared across the table or would have been couched in diplomatic words. All this leads to a situation where the recipient is often wondering which of the team member is his friend and who is his enemy.

All this leads to a situation where the team members work in sub-groups, play politics to demonstrate their individual performance and are resistant to stepping into a team member’s role if required. A working style or team dynamics that are hardly conducive to creating a winning football team.

I tried creating such teams in Srijan.  These teams were based on the following principles

  1. There is no hierarchy in the team. Everyone in the team was equal and could challenge others in the team. This meant that anyone could pitch in ideas or could participate in evaluating ideas. Over a period, would lead to better decision making and better team work.
  2. The 360 degree performance appraisal system was across the table where the whole team sat together and discussed each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The advantage was everything was in open. The disadvantage was hard feedback or not so positive feedback was generally not easy to come by. This despite the feedback workshop we had. But unfortunately it was no followed up with regular practice sessions. This was one area which needed lot of attention.

One thing we were trying before I moved out of Srijan was delinking salaries to performance. Everyone gets a salary that he decides based on his expectation, affordability of the company and market rate. The total employee costs were pegged to sales and a component of performance bonus was built in employee costs. This was function of company’s performance and was to be distributed to team instead of individual. The performance of the team was to be assessed based on completion of assignment in time, variance between budgeted and actual contribution and contributions to the community amongst some other parameters.