If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise. Muhammad Ali, American professional boxer, activist and philanthropist whose triumphs included winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics (1942–2016)
We have all heard the maxim “there is no I in team”. Of course, we cannot spell team with the letter ‘I’ but perhaps we have been too hasty to dismiss the individual within the team. Perhaps this encouragement to give up yourself for the sake of the team missed a key component – what if by recognising the individual within the team, the team succeeds more, not less?
Zheng and colleagues explored the positive spill-over effects of formal individual recognition in teams. When one thinks about sport, individuals within the team still receive awards for ‘player of the match’ or ‘most valuable player’. Why would we acknowledge the individual if the team matters so much? Perhaps this question is more about a balance between seeing the team and acknowledging the individual contributions. Both, it seems, have their place in the recognition of contribution.
In the business world, just like in the classroom, there is formal recognition to motivate members of the classroom and members of the business. We are used to hearing about ‘star of the week’ in the classroom and ‘employee of the month’ in businesses but these types of recognition do not hold any financial reward, for example, they are symbolic of the appreciation of a board of directors, for example, for employees. So what happens when the individual is getting the praise that the team generated? The underlying assumption is that rewarding the individual will motivate other members to follow suit. From theories on social influence and role modelling, we can understand what might happen here.
First, by appreciating the contribution of one person to the team and reinforcing that contribution, it encourages others to follow the social lead. In football, for example, there is a ‘player of the match award’ that comes with a small material award (e.g., trophy) but these are of a limited influence according to the research.
Social recognition programmes abound in sport and business. We have feedback, recognition commendations, compliments, and praise, which improve job performance. Many, if not most, of these mechanisms are highlighting the influence of the individual, but the individual is in a complex social system where the support and contribution from others allows one to succeed.
There is research to support the notion of jealously and reduced performance among teams because of the individual recognition within the team context. Some team members, however, bask in the glory of the other because they know the success of the individual depends on the team. Zheng and colleagues using two lab experiments of 24 teams and 40 teams and a field experiment of 52 manufacturing teams, all led to positive changes in her or her teammates’ individual and collective performance.
Formal social recognition programmes could provide a motivational effect beyond the individual recipients. The success of one is the success of all, and there is a place for recognising ‘I’ in the team.
Social recognition remains a vital cog in the wheel of success. Feedback, compliments, and praise are keeping the wheels of motivation and success turning in an ever demanding world of work and sport. Maybe you could reinforce these social recognition elements in your team.
Li, N., Zheng, X., Harris, T.B., Liu, X. & Kirkman, B.L (2016). Recognizing “me” benefits “we”: Investigating the positive spillover effects of formal individual recognition in teams. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(7), 925-939.
If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise. Muhammad Ali, American professional boxer, activist and philanthropist whose triumphs included winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics (1942–2016). See Owen, James; Times Books. The Times Great Quotations: Famous quotes to inform, motivate and inspire . HarperCollins Publishers.
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