Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Employee performance optimisation – Series 2

Last week’s blog discussed individual employee performance optimisation.  This week’s blog continues the discourse on employee performance optimisation, but from the lens of a team.

Group norms determine team productivity and not brains
Group norms determine team productivity and not brains

One may assume that when companies fail at optimising individual employee performance, they, in turn, will fail at optimising team performance. In other words, when employees fail as individuals, the same failure is transferred to the teams they are part of.  True or false?

Well, not always – it is not a simple linear process as: ‘when you fail as an individual, you will also fail in teams’. To the contrary, the team may help you succeed where you have failed as an individual, by plugging your skills gap. Well-constituted teams have a multiplicity of skill sets ensuring that when you have a particular skills gap, there will be a member of the team that shall bring such skill to the table.

Examples of individuals failing when on their own, but succeeding in a team:

Winston Churchill former British Prime Minister failed a lot before succeeding. Perhaps, if Churchill had continued going it alone, he would have continued to fail.

However, the same Churchill in a team became a very successful leader

Winston Churchill: This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn’t always as well regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and failed the sixth grade. After school, he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.

Historians widely attribute Churchill with being “the greatest statesman of the 20th century.” Churchill was an effective leader and statesman because of his tremendous ability to inspire people; his unique strategic insight; his relentless passion; and his imperturbable personality.

Our summary of the above is that left alone, Winston Churchill was likely to fail than succeed – yet, put him in charge of others, and you will see a quintessential side of the man, that has gone down in history.

At our workplaces, we have experienced colleagues that struggle to put together any deliverable on their own, until you put them on a team. Let us share a theoretical but common example: you have a colleague who is extremely smart in the sciences and on paper, can mint solutions to all sorts of engineering challenges; ask the same scientist to document and show the A-Z of putting their idea into practice, and they will fail; get the same scientist, put them in a team constituted by the super-organised and other skills; the other team colleagues shall extract ideas from the scientists’ brain, add process and order to the ideas, and bingo – there is a solution to a problem, but, more importantly, a roadmap for getting the solution on the ground.

What do others that work with the Churchill’s and Scientist above, add to such individuals, that when left on their own, they severely lack?  To answer the latter question, we have to ask ourselves the question below:

What makes individuals succeed in a team after they have failed on their own?

One factor that almost all scholars on team dynamics mention as a key to team success is the diversity of skills that individual team members bring to the team – it is like: no one ‘knows it all’ when it comes to solving problems at work; and you need the combined skill-sets of a number of other individuals, in order to effectively solve problems.

The hypothesis for effective problem solving then goes: ‘for as long as you get a group of individuals together, having rigorously reviewed their individual strengths, both: ‘hard’ skills like being highly numerate as well as ’soft’ skills of working well with others, patience, etc. – you are bound to realise high problem resolution and productivity from teams.’

READ also: Seven Factors of Effective Team Performance 

READ also: ‘’the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.

The truth behind successful teams:

The above is not necessarily true; what makes teams successful is not that obvious and linear.  According to Google research, it is not the intelligence-diversity of a team that makes it successful.  It is ‘group norms’ and the dynamics around them, that render teams successful. Norms are a pattern of behaviour considered acceptable or proper by a social group. Norms increase a team’s identity. According to Google, what distinguishes successful from failed teams, is how team members treat one another. The right norms increase the team’s collective intelligence while the opposite undermines teams, even if they are composed of the brightest individuals

Two behavioural characteristics of successful and effective teams:

  1. Team members speak almost in equal share – Google researchers referred to this phenomenon as ‘’equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’
  2. Team members experience high levels of ‘’average social sensitivity’’ — this apparently is the Google researcher’s fancy way of saying that team members are skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

The above two phenomena have been termed by psychologists ‘psychological safety’ — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘’shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

Takeaway: ‘Psychological safety‘, before anything else, should be guaranteed for teams to be effective at what they do. Those of you dealing with employee performance optimisation, in this blog – teams, please be aware. It is not about how smart team members are, but how safe they feel in teams.


4 responses to “Employee performance optimisation – Series 2”

  1. […] the resources needed. The task culture is about getting the best out of teams. Managing the psychology of teams for results is key to delivering SMART outcomes. Team members with expertise in team […]


  2. […] (including the family) is its people (staff/members). Organizations that get the best out of their teams lead their peers in the race for productivity and […]


  3. I agree with you ABG.

    I have seen organizations spending millions of UGX in team building activities than addressing the issues that affect team spirit and chemistry. One can not build good teams while at the same time promoting cliques, “lugambo”, and setting teams against other teams! How would you advise them?


    1. Seddu – I like the word ‘lugambo’ – thanks.

      First of all Seddu – teams are quickly becoming the way we work – almost like we have had functions in the last 70 years plus…. The first thing organisations have to do is to think about team-organisation, like they do formal functions

      We have to structure – staff – and create processes for the ‘team-way’ of working. This has to start with a re-orientation of our HR units…. If HR colleagues still want to think about organising in terms of departments and functions, instead of people&culture (how we work in teams) then there will be no traction towards the team approach to work

      Organisations that have teams that fight instead of add value – creating ‘psychological insecurity’ instead of ‘security’ – will not survive in this 21st century.

      We have to learn from the Googles of the world – staff with pedigree to run modern teaming organisations are rare!

      We will continue our written lobby and contribution, at the Effectivenss Lab


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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