Every single year … the performance evaluation comes down to the employees. Most organizations know and appreciate — as the school system does — only individual performance. But agility is a team sport. What counts is the performance of the team. How can individual performance be assessed then? And should one do so at all?
The Team is Everything
Those who measure individual performance contributions and distribute varying rewards depending on them, not only receive demonstrably poorer results for any non-trivial task, but also disrupt the team structure in particular. Each team member is then primarily concerned with his or her own area of responsibility. This loose group of mediocre soloists does however not make a good orchestra.
Yes, but …
What about “low performers”? And what about key players? How can the former be punished and the latter rewarded? The only correct answer to this question was given a long time ago by Douglas McGregor: Not at all or at least not for the purpose of motivation.
The answer to the question managers so often ask of behavioral scientists „How do you motivate people?“ is, „You don’t.“Douglas McGregor, 1966. Leadership and motivation: essays
Of course there will be differences in the team. Alone the skills and inclinations of the members will differ in an agile team. This interdisciplinarity is an essential principle of agility. In a good team, everyone is important and everyone makes an important contribution, but it cannot be compared to the contributions of the others.
Yes, but what if the team doesn’t work so well? Sure: Not all members will always be able to deliver their best performance. We are all just human beings and have life circumstances that could inspire or burden us. Our day-to-day performance varies. However, if it becomes apparent over a longer period of time that people do not feel comfortable in a team and are unable to develop their potential, the first thing to do is to find out why. Simply diagnosing and punishing “underperformance” is about as useful as shouting at the stunted tomato in the garden and cutting back on the fertilizer.
Why do you hire dead wood? Or why do you hire live wood and kill it?Peter Scholtes (1997). The Leader’s Handbook (S. 331)
Generally, the principle of self-organization of the team also applies in these cases. The team recognizes the interference of the performance itself best and can address this in an environment of psychological safety, such as in the context of a retrospective and jointly search for solutions. However, to ensure this psychological safety and to enable a constructive handling of the challenge beyond blame, requires an experienced Scrum Master as coach.
As long as you need heroes or culprits to explain a situation convincingly, you haven’t understood it yet.Gerhard Wohland
Yes, but the outstanding key players should be rewarded! In a healthy organization, they have hopefully performed well out of joy of achievement and success of the team and the organization. In a healthy culture, they hopefully received envy-free recognition from colleagues and superiors. If, on the other hand, it seems necessary to reward key players for their performance, this only masks deeper-seated problems in the organization and its culture.
Yet the Team Is Not Everything
Most organizations consist of more than one team. And the output of the organization is the result of the successful cooperation of the teams. Replacing an individual assessment with an assessment of team performance alone is therefore not sufficient. A team is only a top team if it also takes responsibility for the bigger picture by helping other teams and contributing to the development of cross-cutting concerns (e.g. security, processes, architecture) in communities of practice.