Men In Blue — Great Teams Vs. Shining Heroes.

Who is more important, individual or team? What sort of company culture and HR policies should be promoted, those that promotes the team or those that recognize exceptional individuals. Lessons from ongoing controversies on coach selection in the Indian Cricket team.

This perennial dilemma keeps re-surfacing every now and then and drives much debate. As we emerge from the annual performance appraisal and increments season, many of us would have had to grapple with this once more. Around the same time, we have been watching the recent controversies on coach selection and the captain’s role in the Indian cricket team. This team is a perfect case study, with a captain who is indubitably the most shining of contemporary cricketing heroes and a team that is a formidable cohesive unit.

Keeping with the ‘politically correct’ view we tend say it’s the team that’s more important than the individual and yet our actions tend to be driven by how individuals think of themselves. Look at a typical company annual increments and promotions list and it would be obvious that there has been an attempt to reward high performers or HIPOs and to retain those bright ones who the organization thinks might leave if their expectations are not met. Clearly, actions and talk do not match.

So is the concept of team over the individual ‘idealistic’ and impractical? While we have all read and heard much about the value of teams and team spirit, there are several arguments to support the opposing view that the Individual is more important. Among the most convincing one is the evolutionary logic of “survival of the fittest’ and how it is the job of the organization (read HR) to identify and promote the strongest while culling the weakest. The latter is the basis of the ‘fire the bottom 10% percent’ rule of the much-maligned Bell Curve.

A second point of view is built upon the behavioral hypothesis that we are driven by individual success and not group success, we need to succeed over our fellow folk, not succeed with them. This view maintains that unless this individual ego is satiated with success over peers, it will seek other killing fields where it will be acclaimed as a winner.

And then, there is responsibility-authority argument that is driven home by the parable of anybody, somebody and nobody that teaches us that unless you give specific responsibility and authority chaos will reign. By corollary this implies that teams encourage individuals to slack-off and end-up in collective failure that no owns.

Interestingly, most management stories on the other side of the debate talk of pulling out of adversity and crisis. It’s as if one is saved by teamwork but success comes through individuals shining.

So do we need great teams or shining Heroes? —