Sunday, 29 March 2015

Finding the right balance between the group and the individual

'Balancing Rocks' by Viewminder
under a CC license
We often hear that successful organisations are based on effective teams. Almost equally often we hear that successful organisations are those with charismatic, efficient leaders. Those statements are complementing rather than contradicting each other. However, as the headcount and complexity of structure, operations and objectives of organisations increases, the importance of the teams that operate them becomes increasingly important. A major challenge in teams of a given composition is how to balance between the needs/ priorities of the individual and the needs/ priorities of the group.

This balance dilemma is much more multi-faceted than it may initially seem. It's not only about finding the right monetary or other incentives to encourage individual and collective performance or finding the optimal way to distribute paid leave days amongst the group members over a given time period. It is about understanding that both the individuals and the group(s) are separate - but interacting - entities that both require adequate attention.

At the individual level, staff members need to have (the list is purely indicative and by no means exhaustive):
  • sufficient space, time and resources to work, focus and reflect, in most cases with some minimum privacy available
  • space and reasonably adequate means to develop and pursue ideas, propose actions towards the set objectives, raise concerns, etc.
  • improve both as an individual and as a staff member through training on soft and key skills, on the job experience, mentoring, staff exchanges, etc.
  • flexibility to cooperate within but also outside the group(s) where the individual belongs to, within the organisation and - in some cases - outside the organisation, as well (obviously constrains such as confidentiality and proper work conduct do apply)
  • time and space within the work environment to handle important issues from his/ her personal environment
At the collective level, groups need to have (once more, the list is non-exhaustive):

  • sufficient space, time and resources to collaborate, (re-)organise themselves, and reflect not only strictly regarding the work objectives but also regarding the quality of the group itself, the benefits for its members, etc.
  • adequate time and means to brainstorm and explore ideas, including innovative ones
  • improve through better bonding of the groups' members, training, expansion via the inclusion of new members or through collaboration with other groups
  • flexibility to reach other individuals and groups in order to do any of the points above
It is evident that a certain level of equivalence between the needs of the individual and the group does exist. It may be tempting to think that those two do not need to be cared for separately. Wrong! To start with, properly managing teams is different to managing individuals. Organisations that work having in mind their employees solely as individual units or fail to see the individuals within the groups are likely to perform sub-optimally . Properly balancing the two can help of the optimisation process for an organisation.

There are many ways to intervene towards the right direction. For instance:
  • Re-think the space available to individuals and groups. Does it provide quiet areas for an individual to work? What about privacy? Does it have properly equipped meeting rooms? Are there common areas for social interaction, such as a staff kitchen, a garden with benches, etc.?
  • If necessary, invest on equipment and office furniture that can encourage cooperation. A whiteboard and markers in small common areas, a discussion platform in the organisations' intranet, a table and comfy chairs close to the coffee machine are all some of the very different things that can encourage cooperation without compromising private space.
  • Reflect on the composition, structure and objectives of the current teams. Are they balanced in terms of skills? Are they sufficiently diverse (some diversity can bring benefits to a group's function)? Do they have clear objectives? Do they have appropriate self-management margin? Is their connection to the organisation structure and management clear? Is there a tension resolution mechanism in place? Are teams sufficiently open to new members as well as to innovative ideas and practices? Do teams interact with each other?
  • Go over the typical workflow in the organisation. Does it involve groups or individuals? How are objectives defined and reviewed? Are personal projects allowed or encouraged? How is pilot testing performed?
  • Review the human capital practices of the organisation. Does the regular appraisal process look on both the individual and the group performance? Are there personal development plans for the employees that take into consideration also their function as team members? Does the organisation and its management publicly recognise both the individual and the collective achievements (and the link between the two)?
Striking the right balance between the focus on the individual and the function of the group is essential for modern organisations, especially for those with high knowledge intensity or high dependence on the individual knowledge and expertise, where cooperation and proper knowledge management are of key relevance. However, finding the balance point is not a one-off exercise. People change, the operating environment around organisations changes, challenges arise and groups evolve. It might, thus, be a bit more realist to talk about the organisation's management placing reasonable attention and pitting genuine effort to improve the environment for both its individual staff members and their teams.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said! Nothing to really add but some....Greek!: The balance a POINT! To succeed you need a perceptive [in Greek ΟΞΥΔΕΡΚΗΣ= ΟΞΥΣ (sharp, acute, intence, clever) + ΔΕΡΚΟΜΑI (see)]leader. Maybe more than one but certainly with such a trait. And for those to be appointed as leaders even greater personalities to choose them are needed. Nice photo the "balancing rocks". However as said ....the real balance has a sharp point. Not flat ends as in the photo but rather sharp ... The highest position of the "rock", the one that needs to be on top, the one that keeps the balance needs to be sharp, acute, intence, clever.