The importance of seeing team members as individuals

ImageThe interaction in teams
In one of my last blogpost I wrote about `the secret of great teamwork´, where I quoted Prof. Alex Sandy Pentland (director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory), who claims that `how we communicate turns out to be the most important predictor of team success ( `The hard science of teamwork´ ). Thus communication seems to be a really important factor for effective teamwork and `how we communicate´ depends mainly on the combination of the single individuals within a team. That´s why I would like to have a closer look at the individual, as it is important to see `the single human apart from a society or community´ (definition of the term `individual´) to understand the way people interact in teams.

What mangers have to consider when leading teamsImage
When leading teams managers have to make sure that they keep equal attention on the task, the team and the individual.  The significance of these three components is specified by the `John Adair´s Action-Centred Leadership model´, which `offers a clear strategy for the management of any team´. It points out the liability of managers to `understand the team members as individuals´ with their personal `skills, strengths, needs, aims and fears´. Therefore managers should amongst other things `assist and support individuals, give recognition to individuals and develop each individual´s capabilities and strengths.´

Human needs
This leadership model is based on `previous thinking on human needs and motivation by Maslow and Herzberg´.
Maslow´s hierarchy of needs states that human beings are willing to fulfill the most basic levels of needs before they aspire the secondary or next higher level of needs. In the figurative sense an individual, who doesn´t have enough food, water and sleep wouldn´t be interested in participating in occupational teamwork. Hence this individual still is concerned with the `physiological´ level of needs. Accordingly it will not waste a thought to employment, which is contained in the next higher level of needs (`safety´).

The background of an individual
To understand an individual it is even more important to look at his background and external influences then on his level of needs.
Therefore it might be helpful for mangers to be acquainted with the cultural and familiarly backgrounds of their employees, `cause it reveals a lot of a person. Hence organizational behavioral studies have shown that cultural values play an important role when it comes to the question whether people are more productive in teams or individually – for example Asian cultures feature a lot more collective behavior than the individualistic straightened Western cultures.
The family status of a person is always a meaningful factor, as it gives a hint to the stress an individual is exposed of. Thus it might be a double burden for an employee to work fulltime and have four kids.

Stress can be seen as an external influence on an individual.
In Germany `almost a third (31.1%) of full-time employees feel that their work involves a high level of stress. More than half (51.2%) report that this partly applies (based on data from the GSOEP).
It is essential that mangers are aware of the fact that a high level of stress of every single employee might lead to even more stress, frustration and dissatisfaction when brining these employees together in a team.

The personality of an individualImage
Remember when I talked about the slobs and the sticklers in my post about `ergonomics´? Here I explained the relation of different characteristics of people and their dominant hemisphere. (People whose right-brain-hemisphere is dominant think cross-linked and work on several projects at a time where as people whose left-brain-hemisphere is dominant are more structured and prefer to work at one project at a time.)
Of course a personality is based on more than just on the dominating hemisphere.
We are just going to touch the field of personality briefly as it is a really complex topic, which has been reviewed theoretically by a lot of famous psychologists. Though there is one assumption that all of the theories have in common, which is that we are each unique.
In general the personality is defined as the `characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling and acting´. Sigmund Freud for instance emphasized that the way a person thinks, feels and acts depends on the `influence of the unconscious, the importance of sexual and aggressive instincts, and early childhood experiences.´ 

The operational health management of `team 5´ captures the person, the social environment, the company and the society. Moreover it describes the interdependency of each of these categories.
So far we talked about the person itself and the social environment of an individual. Now let´s have a look at the relation of the individual and the company the person works for.
For the company it is important to understand that the action of a person is controlled by the motivation. The two-factor-theory of Herzberg supports this way of thinking.
It claims that `hygiene factors (e.g. status, job security, salary, finge benefits, work conditions) do not give positive satisfaction, though dissatisfaction results from their absence.´ The second factor are the motivators `(e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility) that give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth.´
Accordingly `motivation factors are needed to motivate an employee to higher performance.´ That is why managers should make sure that hygiene factors are fulfilled anytime and should pay attention to the motivators if they want their employees to work successfully.

Different opinions
In his blogpost Mr. Stibel argues that `a great individual is better than a good team´. Thus he thinks that `our brains work very well individually but tend to break down in groups´ for him that is the reason why `we have individual decision makers in business´. However he is not totally against teamwork as `proper team building is a powerful thing´. But in his opinion it should be avoided when the task can be `performed sufficiently by one person´.

Robin Chandler states that it is `fundamentally wrong´ that `there is no `I´ in teamwork´. Due to the fact that `there is not a team out there in the world that doesn’t have star players, that doesn’t have individuals with special skills and abilities which are relied upon by all to get results.´ Furthermore he maintains that `without individual effort not teamwork would ever get done´.

A blogger on `´ worries that people who are `less socially involved or are very highly competitive with other people´ are not able to work in teams as it `limits their effectiveness and efficiency because they simply do not want to be part of the team.´ Therefore `their work is most productive as individuals´.

Last but not least Alan Troups describes that it is `hard to stand out as an individual when you’re being evaluated in part as a team player´. He sees it paradoxical that ` today’s workplace… increasing emphasis teamwork´ but at the same time it is a trend that `employees are compared against one another´. In the end he says that you can only `stand out in a team environment´ if you go `above and beyond your regular job duties.´

I personally don´t see teamwork as critically as the previous bloggers and was even surprised to find so much negative opinions about teamwork when `googeling´ the two terms `individual´ and `teamwork´.
It is often said that everybody should put the team first when working together on a project. Moreover even in nature we can see that a herd is more important than a single animal and that there always has to be a victim to make sure that the group as a whole is safe. Briefly speaking that one animal has to get `hurt´ or even die.
However I wouldn´t go that far as we as human beings should also keep an eye on each individual when working in a team. Thus everybody should feel satisfied and comfortable with the team´s decisions and work in general.
All in all I think it is best when a group of employees is willing to work together as a team without forgetting the needs, the background and the personality of each individual.


2 responses to “The importance of seeing team members as individuals

  1. Hey Korinna,
    Thanks for an interesting post.I like the combination of pictures corresponding to the text, they are not dull, colorful, and make sense 🙂 I guess since we were small children, were already started learning to work in a team, in kindergarten, during the school projects, etc. It is a very useful skill nowadays, although not every individual is able to do that.
    Personally i think that working in a team is very important,But it is only possible when you see every member of the group as an individual, respect their opinion and needs. Since I work myself, I can tell, that everything is done a lot easier with the cooperation, communication and understanding in the team, tasks are assigned, everything is done faster and more efficient.

  2. Pingback: Retrospect #4 : Slowing it down | BLOG OR DIE TRYIN'·

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