Optimising for individual success
Players don’t win matches. Organisations do
This quote from the Netflix series the last dance, stuck with me. Yes, as an individual the target that we can reach is limited and we need to work together as a team to achieve great success. Our ability to work as a group is a key reason why humans are at the top of the food chain. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship to look out for your tribe, and your tribe looks out for you.In a work setup, it translates to help your team achieve its goals and it’ll in turn help you.
In the past few years, I’ve consistently delivered good, utilitarian products that solves real customer problems, without any fancy tech. I’ve automated several flows which saved the business 1000s of man hours. I’ve built software which has saved the company in millions. But none of that seem to matter for my personal/ professional growth.
Looking back, what I’ve achieved at work is improve efficiency of the process/ teams but it’s not sexy work. I can’t brag about it outside the immediate circle. This severely impacted my circle of influence.
In a individual contributor role, your sphere of influence is based on your reputation. In most cases these tend to be flashy, cutting edge problems. It need not necessarily add any value to your team, but it gets you bragging rights and looks great on your resume.
What I’ve come to realise is that as an individual contributor you need to focus on personal wins than your team. These little wins matter. It helps you maintain a positive outlook about yourself and gives you the strength to carry on.
This is not to say that you should totally ignore the needs of the team. You help your team towards success while going for personal glory.
As much as I hate using cricket analogies, a great example of this phenomenon is Sachin and Dravid. There hasn’t been a consistent match winner who has done more for his team than Dravid. On the other hand it’s a popular gripe that when Sachin scores a century the team loses. However Sachin is the one who’s heralded as a legendary player. Meanwhile Dravid didn’t even get a goodbye game.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but it seems to be the norm in tech companies. It’s the responsibility of the manager to focus on the team success. Your manager should be able to rein you in when your glory shots are making things worse for the team. This constant tension between an IC and a manager role seems to balance out and produces results for the team.