A Team Killer Lurks in Your Company

Teams continue to be a key aspect of most company organizational strategies.  A team is often needed to do more than one individual can accomplish.  Teams are also seen as an effective way to improve productivity and performance.  Most agility transformation approaches also hinge on effective teams.

Team Killer Lurks in Your Company - by Mike Russell

Unfortunately, most companies also have a team “killer” in their midst. One that is ubiquitous yet not always recognized. One that is assumed to be “status quo” yet needs major change for teams to actually work.

What is this team killer?

The performance management system.


Most performance management systems do NOT support teams.

Team performance mismanagement system

Most performance management systems focus on individuals. The systems and overall accountability are all about individual expectations and performance. There may be overall company performance elements. However, there is nothing for team results and accountability.

This creates the following typical toxic situation:

  • Leaders emphasize teams and teamwork.
  • Team members believe the leaders.
  • Members focus on and contribute to team results. They do this sometimes at the expense of individual results.
  • Individuals are performance “rated” only on individual results and NOT team results.
  • Rewards are then based on individual results.
  • Members no longer believe the “talk” about the importance of teams.
  • Members place individual results ahead of team results.
  • Teams never achieve potential and are viewed as failures.
  • Leaders bring consultants in to “fix” team issues.
  • Consultants focus on mechanics and practices, not the root cause.
  • Training and facilitation take members’ time and effort away from individual results.
  • Individuals rewards are worse.
  • Individuals are further suspicious about and avoid any further “team work” or assignments.

… and the negative cycle continues.

The performance management process has effectively killed teams long-term. The “system “told” team members that only individual results matter, not team results.

For a team to work well long-term, performance management must include team results.

Team portions of performance evaluations must also be the same for all members.

Otherwise, there is no “team” performance but individual performance again.

Team performance mismanagement system x 2

The above is bad enough, but there is a second way most performance management systems kill teams.  The system pits individuals against each other by ranking individuals against a forced “win-lose” pattern.

Performance ratings are often based on a “normal” curve like some school assignment.  Under such an approach, only a few can have “exceptional” or higher performance levels.  Most people must be in a “satisfactory” range and some in the low range for the normal curve to “work.”

Performance mismanagement form - Mike Russell

To make matters worse, compensation is then usually tied to the rankings.

How will a team bond and work together if they must “fight” each other for ratings and compensation?  If a member may get rated lower for helping another member and not focusing on personal results?  If a member may get rated lower by contributing to overall results instead of focusing on personal results?

In this situation, members will be more likely to read Machiavelli’s The Prince rather than The Boys in the Boat.

Are you focusing on the right things for team results?

With the wrong performance management approach,

  • It does not matter how many “team building” events …
  • It does not matter how much training members receive in how to have “better teams” …
  • It does not matter how much leaders talk about teams …

Individual-focused performance management will make the above efforts moot and hypocritical.  Worse, this form of performance management will damage company results.

What about your company?  Are you emphasizing and relying on teams but sabotaging them at the same time?



By Mike Russell