Imagine you have an excellent individual performer. Unfortunately, this person has troubles cooperating with other team members. How would you assess such employee? Would you promote this person? Or put a performance improvement plan in place?

Morten Hansen argues that having an employee performing well solely in his/her own area of responsibility is not enough for most companies, except for organisations like sales where company-wide success is a sum of individual achievements.

It is not enough for startups, either.

Morten Hansen argues that having an employee performing well solely in his/her own area of responsibility is not enough for most companies.

Individual performance vs collaboration

We can identify four types of employees based on their individual performance and cross-company collaboration:

Laggards – who fail both at performing in their areas and supporting other teams.

Lone Stars – who perform very well individually but fail at collaboration.

Butterflies – who engage in other teams’ work but underperform in their own field.

T-Shaped – who succeed at both: individual performance and collaboration.

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Cross-company collaboration is equally important as your individual performance. The right type of star you want to hire and promote within your organisation is someone who can deliver strong results individually and support others at achieving their goals.

The right type of star you want to hire and promote within your organisation is someone who can deliver strong results individually and support others at achieving their goals.

Your recruitment process should be oriented on identifying people excelling in individual performance and collaboration, whereas your development programme should aim at turning other types into T-shaped managers/specialists.

Lone Stars

At first it may sound a bit cruel for Lone Stars who do their job right but it isn’t. By performing individually you prove your expertise and contribute directly to the company’s success. You got clear accountability and deliver results. That’s good. However, if you do not collaborate with other team members you are likely to reach only a local maximum of your contribution. 

If you do not collaborate with other team members you are likely to reach only a local maximum of your contribution. 

Without good collaboration you are at risk of:

  • being under-informed due to limited contact with other teams which can lead to worse decisions,
  • failing at sharing knowledge which can lead to suboptimal performance of other teams,
  • negatively affecting other people’s motivation.

Managers should work with their Lone Stars to make them more collaborative. You can help them discover the value of communication in being better informed and maximising their contribution.

Butterflies

The problem with butterflies is different. They are engaged in various projects across organisation without clear responsibility. On the one hand, they may get pretty positive feedback from other co-workers who appreciate their help. On the other – they do not achieve their individual goals. There is an issue with focus and accountability.

There may be many reasons for that. Maybe their responsibility is not well defined? Maybe it is not tailored to their skills? Maybe they feel overwhelmed with their goals? Whatever the reason, you should help them define their area of responsibility, stay focused and prove value.

Laggards

Laggards are the most troublesome. If they do not perform well and do not help others, the most effective scenario may be to let them go.

T-Shaped

T-shaped professionals are the ones who are able to combine great performance in their field with effective cross-company collaboration.

See a case study from Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results.

To get an idea of what T-shaped management involves, let’s take a look at an executive who practiced it well. Soon after BP merged with Amoco, David Nagel was appointed general manager of BP’s gas business unit in Egypt. Like all BP business unit managers, Nagel has a two-part job description. He is effectively CEO of his business unit, with responsibility for profitability, sales, costs, and capital expenses. There is no ambiguity here; he has signed on to deliver these numbers, and he’d better. This is the vertical part of the T—managing the individual business unit and communicating up the hierarchy. At the same time, Nagel is expected to engage in a variety of cross-unit collaboration activities, which consume 15 to 20 percent of his time. That’s the horizontal part of the T. (…)

To ensure that collaboration doesn’t undermine the goal of outstanding unit performance, Nagel must carefully manage his time. This means that he scrutinizes every effort to make sure it will improve performance. “We’ve tried to eliminate the peer group meetings that are held just for the purpose of saying, ‘We had a peer group meeting,’” Nagel says. The dual demands of T-shaped management have also required him to delegate some business-unit responsibilities, particularly gas exploration and production, to two trusted lieutenants. That frees him for tasks extending beyond his business unit. (…)

T-shaped management as practiced by Nagel is especially powerful in obliterating two barriers to collaboration. T-shaped managers are willing to request input from others if needed (Nagel’s unit requested ten peer assists from other units). In doing so, they overcome the not-invented-here barrier. And T-shaped managers are also willing to provide help to others (Nagel’s unit provided twenty peer assists, with Nagel himself doing three). In this way, T-shaped managers overcome the hoarding barrier. (…)

Takeaways

  1. Cross-company collaboration is not less important than an individual performance.
  2. Promote and hire people who can deliver strong results individually and support others at achieving their goals.
  3. Your recruitment process should be oriented on identifying people excelling in individual performance and collaboration
  4. Your development process should aim at turning other types into T-shaped managers/specialists.