team, collective, individual

Challenges of Forging Individuals Into a Team

How does a sense of team emerge where the whole is prioritized over the individual, especially in Western cultures where the emphasis is on the individual?

A team is a specific type of group where individuals come together to accomplish a shared purpose. In a team, the individual team members bring their unique talents and perspectives and work interdependently to achieve a unified outcome. This requires mutual responsibility, accountability, and support.

Move from a Focus on Individual Team Members to a Focus on the Team Purpose

With the complexity of today’s world, many companies are finding that individuals working by themselves but together with a common goal doesn’t rise to meet the demands of today’s complex and changing world. The creates an “every person for themselves” approach that falls short. Thus, the challenge for many companies today is to create true team where its “all for one and one for all”.

Forging individuals into a team requires the ability to create conditions where team members express their individual talents in service of the team, while keeping their focus on achieving the team’s purpose and serving the team’s stakeholders.

This is easier said than done because most people have been raised to focus on their own talents, needs, and goals. When this is the case, a focus on individuals is at the center of decision-making. Instead, this is where the team’s collective purpose, goals, and stakeholders should be. Consequently, the team can easily devolve back to being a group of individuals, each in pursuit of looking good individually.

As with most things in life, it’s a balancing act. A healthy team must strive for a balance between encouraging the individual team members to fully contribute while ensuring the shared team purpose drives the work.

Here are some things to monitor if you want to forge a collection of individuals into a high-performing or even transformative team:

Strive For Your Team’s Individual/Team Balance

A team leader along with the team must strive to create conditions where individual team members:

  • know which unique skills, knowledge, and abilities they contribute to the team.
  • are willing to reflect on their abilities and their limits to grow through the challenges of working with others.
  • have interesting and purposeful tasks to perform.
  • are willing to engage in productive conflict to find creative solutions with others.
  • are willing to ask for and offer help when needed without judgment.

Additionally, the team as a whole must:

  • agree upon a shared purpose, norms, goals/aspirations, and priorities.
  • recognize and appreciate individual contributions and encourage individual growth.
  • prioritize its work together with the stakeholders and shared purpose at the center.
  • take collective responsibility to improve as a team and to assist each team member in their individual development
  • engage in dialogue and productive conflict to find creative solutions
 Warning Signs That You’re Losing the Individual/Team Balance

To strike that individual/team balance, there are also things to avoid.  For example, signs that the focus is too much on individuals include:

  • individual opinions and preferences drive decision-making over what’s best for the team and its stakeholders.
  • the team allowing a louder or outspoken team member to dominate team discussions frequently.
  • the team allows individual preferences or behavior to derail group progress towards a shared goal.

Signs that the team might be stifling individual participation include:

  • group think sets in — team members don’t challenge interpretations or points of view out of habit or because they fear not being seen as “team players”.
  • a dogmatic or misguided group personality emerges that isolates the team and creates difficult interactions with others outside the team.
  • the team as a whole dismisses individual contributions (+ and -) that could lead to breakthroughs.

Building a great team is not easy. When you get full team member participation that serves the purpose of the team, it will be a thing of beauty.


WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at


failure, learning

Why You Should Prize Failure

Failure happens when a desired or expected outcome doesn’t materialize. It can happen whether or not there was something you could have done about it, too. Whether the mistake is a small glitch or a major flop, failure often weighs heavily on you personally because you’ve been conditioned that, without exception, “failure is not an option”.

This is a lot to overcome. In most people’s experience, nothing is perfect; you and the people around you are flawed, and the world is constantly changing. Thus, you’re not always going to get things right on with mistakes, foibles, and failure and re-frame them as ”learning”:

1. Failure points to weaknesses in behavior, skill, processes, your overall system, or level of support provided.

Use an error to examine a weakness in how you are performing the work. People involved may need to build technical or interpersonal skills. The steps designed to produce the work output may be inadequate. Also, you might need to increase follow ups or check ins during a process to increase the ability to get and give needed guidance.

2. Failure provides you new information and data about what does and doesn’t work.

Mistakes help you home in on what will ultimately work well, especially when you are in uncharted territory. Repeated, incremental failures can help you fine tune toward success.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

3. Failure can highlight false assumptions.

Consumers didn’t embrace the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s in part because the company mistakenly assumed consumers wanted big cars when they wanted smaller, more economical ones. The maker of Coke incorrectly assumed that it would convert Pepsi drinkers if it made its product taste more like its rival. While it’s too bad that these companies went all the way to market with ill-conceived products, they did learn that their thinking was flawed at a fundamental level.

4. Failure can create curiosity that leads to inquiry and more engagement.

With an eye towards learning, you can use failure to focus your team on the work. To do this you must avoid blaming and shaming individuals, which can drive a wedge in the middle of your team. Instead, focusing on what happened can bring your team together to solve problems. Additionally, your team can go one step further to share what they learned with others in your organization.

Perfection is not the goal. Nothing and no one will ever be 100% error free. Rather, view the performance of work as a creative process that can teach you a lot through the errors, mishaps, and failures that occur along the way. Be grateful you have opportunities to discover what and how you can improve the next time.


WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR BLOG? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at

thanks employee appreciation

Employee Recognition for the “No Nonsense” Boss

You know who you are.  You grew up in a family where no news was good news. When your parents had a conversation with you, it meant you had screwed up.  You’re focused on work, not that you don’t like people. You do. You just like them better when they are working. While you make pleasant conversation with others from time to time, it drives you nuts or at least makes you a bit antsy, and you feel it’s a waste of your time if the chit chat goes beyond 5 minutes.

Now, you lead others. Maybe you have your own company, you’re a CEO of a large company, or you’re in charge of a department or a small work crew. Doesn’t matter. You’re now faced with getting the most out of others, and the concept of employee recognition or appreciation comes up. The idea alone makes you crazy. Employee appreciation. After all, employees are getting paid to do their jobs.  You think, “Why should you have to gush all over them? Geez. Grow up, employees. This is the adult world. Not everyone gets a trophy for showing up to work.”

Granted, it would be a lot easier if everyone could simply show up, hit their marks, and know in their heart of hearts that they did a good job without you needing to say it.  But that’s not the way the world works.  Employees’ need to belong and to feel good about themselves and that means they need you to recognize their efforts from time to time.

Yes, some recognition programs miss the mark.  They put too much emphasis on the token given to the employee (a watch, a trophy, a bonus, etc.) than on the meaning and sentiment behind the token.  (How many of you have commemorative service pins that you don’t want and don’t know what to do with?)  If a program stresses form (getting something) over function (appreciation), then the recognition program is the problem and needs to be revamped or dismantled altogether.

Here’s what we know about employee appreciation:

1.  Performance is higher in groups where the leader shows more encouragement.
In fact, a survey way back from 1995 showed that 95% of those survey agreed with the statement, “I get a lot of satisfaction knowing I’ve done a good job.”
This indicates that to get the best performance out of employees, employees want and need to hear that you recognize their efforts and to know that you were pleased with their work.  It doesn’t mean you have to throw a party or buy them expensive presents each time they do something right.  It simply means you need to acknowledge the efforts.  How about a simple thank you?
2.  Teams with managers who were encouraging and offered praise performed 31% better than teams that did not.
Again, recognizing efforts and telling employees that they are doing well and that you appreciate their efforts is all that is needed.The research doesn’t say you need to spend a ton of money making a big deal out of every success or breakthrough. Greenberg, M. H., & Arakawa, D. (2006)
3.  Deliberate and specific recognition/praise is more motivating than money.

When you show your appreciation, be deliberate in recognizing employees and be specific about what it was they did so well and why it mattered to the company.Don’t say only, “Thank you.”  Instead say, “Thanks for the long hours and hard work you put into the ABC project.Because of your efforts, we landed the account.” Deci, E. L. (1996)

So, as much as it may irk you to recognize when employees get it right, it can pay off big for them individually. Consequently, sincerely giving a specific “thank you” will pay off big for your company, department, or team.  It’s not the fancy recognition program you design or the stuff you give people; it’s the sincerely and specific recognition and appreciation you show for their efforts.
Updated 1/21/2020