Putting the ‘we’ before the ‘me’ - Michelle Gibbings

Would you rather work alone or as part of a team? It’s a question people are often asked in a job interview.

The answer to that question can’t just be determined by whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, and for many people the answer will vary. Some days they want to be alone. Other days they want to work collectively – as part of a team.

What is common, however, is that as tribal creatures we are genetically wired to be part of a group. To survive we need to feel like we belong, and being part of a team is good for us. It can also motivate us to go beyond what we think is possible.

As David DeSteno recounts in his book, Emotional Success, being part of a team – even a team made up of strangers – can lead people to persevere longer than when they weren’t part of a team. He was explaining the results of a study by Stanford psychologists, Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen, who were looking at how being part of a team impacted perseverance for students.

“Knowing they (the students) were part of something – having a goal that they knew was shared by a group and to which they could contribute and be valued – pushed people to work hard and resist immediate pleasures”, David wrote.

It is often when we come together that we achieve amazing things. I’ve frequently seen how ideas by one person, are improved by another and how it is when we are in a group that our best ideas are generated, debated and achieved.

Curiously though, organisations typically reward people as individuals, and reward and recognition schemes often focus on rewarding the individual over the collective team.

On one side is the argument about fairness if people don’t contribute equally to the results. While on the other side is the argument that reward and recognition schemes are subjective, and consequently they can negatively impact team dynamics, cooperation and collegiality. Particularly if the reward seems unfairly allocated.

If a person believes they work harder than someone else, and yet they are rewarded less they’ll be unhappy. While we would commonly see this as fairness, in research terms it is known as equity theory.

As Furnham and Taylor, in their book Bad Apples: Identify, Prevent and Manage Negative Behaviour at Work write: “Equity theory is concerned with outcomes and inputs as they are perceived by the people involved, not as they actually are”.

What happens in practice is that the greater the perceived inequity, the greater the motivator for the person to try and find a way to restore the balance. How they do this will vary but it can lead to an employee being less productive, taking more sick leave or committing fraud as the person tries to find a way to fix the inequity.

As a leader, you play a key role in ensuring your team members are treated fairly and you balance the focus on the ‘we’ and the ‘me’.

Sure, different people want to be recognised in different ways; but what’s common is people want to be valued and appreciated for what they do, and for that recognition to be genuine and fair.

As well, more often than not, the gestures that make the biggest difference and have the most impact are sincere and heartfelt. A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way – both individually and collectively.

So, take the time to understand how your team wants to celebrate and recognise success. Focus on efforts that bond the team, rather than divide the team, because what we can achieve together is so much greater than what we can achieve alone.

It’s worth remembering the words of NBA legend, Michael Jordan, who said:  “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”.



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