Individual vs. Group Effort: 3 Leadership Strategies for Maximizing Both

Group Of People At The MeetingHave you ever had to choose between performing a task alone or with others? If you have, you’ve probably been torn thinking:

–If I do it alone, I can make decisions quicker. I don’t have to sort through alternative ideas. I don’t have to persuade people to change their opinions. I don’t have to wait for others to do their part before I can do mine. Besides, chances are it will be a pretty good result—even if I do work on it by myself. But on the other hand … 

–If I do it with others, there could be a better output because more ideas are on the table. A debate over issues will identify potential blind spots. The more involved people are in a decision, the more likely they are to support the final decision, even if it didn’t go the way they would have preferred. 

To summarize, going it alone is probably quicker, but doesn’t consider as many alternatives. Doing it in a group probably results in a better outcome, but has the potential challenges of dealing with people.

The good news is that you don’t have to make it an either/or decision.  Here are three strategies that combine the best parts of both approaches:

  1. Keep everyone focused by addressing bystander effect. When people are working in groups, they are less likely to feel the same sense of responsibility for results than if they were acting alone. They are less inclined to take action. For example, if a group of people sees an individual struggling to carry a heavy load, each of those people is less likely to jump in and help than if it were only one person making the same observation. “When all are responsible, no one is responsible.” Focus responsibility. Don’t say, “Everyone should be more present at our meetings.” Instead, say, “We need each one of you to increase your level of involvement on this agenda.”
  2. Replace competition with collaboration. Competition is not as big a problem within groups as it is among groups.  The same individuals can act very different in the two settings. Specifically, research indicates that people are 50 percent more competitive when on a team. Rarely do you hear someone say “it’s him or me”; but you do hear “it’s us or them.” The root cause seems to be trust. People are suspicious of other groups, reasoning that the individual members may be okay but the group can’t be trusted.
  3. Reduce inattentional blindness. Minimize outside distractions during discussions. You’ve probably seen the Simons and Chabris video of the gorilla that walks through a basketball scrimmage and isn’t noticed by most observers because they are watching the ball. People are already overloaded with stimuli. Put them in a meeting, and it turns into chaos. That chaos ends the focus on results. 

Teams need great performers, but great performers need teams. Those teams need leadership. When leaders hold teams and individuals accountable, foster collaboration instead of competition, and maintain team as well as individual focus, they bring out the best in both.

About the author

Dr. Dick Ruhe is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

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