You could almost feel the crowd’s excitement when LeBron James stepped onto the basketball court during this year’s NBA playoffs. And with talent like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by his side, the Miami Heat looked destined to win the season.
But despite great individual performances from “the Big Three,” the San Antonio Spurs stole the final and ultimately won the championship.
Why? One word: teamwork. An announcer described the Spurs as playing “some of the most beautiful team basketball we’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Society puts so much emphasis on individual performance — from pop stars and entrepreneurs to athletes and politicians — that we often end up missing something important: No one becomes successful without help along the way.
This fact rings especially true in business, which is why we need to build organizations that value teamwork over individual contributions.
Company leaders often reward and praise excellent work on an individual basis, thinking it will motivate others to try harder. However, this approach doesn’t reflect reality and is usually counterproductive.
Indeed, projects rarely require effort from only one person. Think about it: Most work at your company probably demands coordination among many people in several different departments. Recognizing just one or two of these employees discounts the hard work of the others who contributed.
What’s worse, you run the risk of frustrating those who participated but weren’t recognized. That’s not only unpleasant for an employee, but it’s also incredibly harmful to your organization. Recognizing individuals and ignoring teamwork only fuels competitiveness, mistrust, and alienation.
A basketball game isn’t won by a few good players, and a few talented individuals in your company won’t singlehandedly bring your company success. Organizations that function as a team are more successful and more productive in the long run.
Integrate Teamwork in Your Company Culture
Building a team-based approach begins with the fundamental structure of your organization. If you’re not sure how to switch your focus from individuals to teams, here are four ways to get started:
1. Deliver the Message
Clearly communicate to your employees and managers that your company puts teams first. This will require a shift in the mindset of your entire organization, so encourage your managers to focus on teams and actively recognize other departments’ work before their own to foster collaboration across the organization.
2. Tie It to Your Core Values
The emphasis on working together should be part of your company’s mission, vision, and values. It should be repeatable and simple. My company’s internal slogan is “One Team, One Goal” — no matter the task, we accomplish it together. We share stories at work that support this value and use it to motivate each other every day.
Always be taking your company’s temperature to determine whether everyone is moving to the same rhythm. One way you can do this is through the online tool 15Five. Each week, employees describe their accomplishments and struggles. Management can even “pass up” comments from employees about exceptional performance from a team member or an entire group, which gives it a good chance of being seen by executive leadership at the company.
3. Hire and Fire Accordingly
A shift in the company culture from individual to team effort requires the right people. When you’re hiring, look for people who work well in teams and enjoy collaborating. On the other hand, have the courage to fire employees who aren’t team players — even if they’re doing good work. Having the right people on board is absolutely essential to your success.
4. Set Up Incentives and Rewards
Construct a reward system to recognize teams and individuals. Incentives don’t have to be about money — you could offer recognition and praise, for example — but make sure they align with your company’s goals. For instance, my company awards bonuses based on team and overall company performance markers such as financial success, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.
Rewarding teams based on company performance increases employee retention and engagement. It’s about building a strong culture where employees feel invested in the company’s success.
The San Antonio Spurs’ performance during this year’s playoffs shows just how much an organization can accomplish by working together without seeking individual glory. As a leader, you always want the best for your company, so place teamwork above individual contributions, and you’ll motivate people to work toward a positive, common goal that will benefit your company for years to come.