Individual vs. Team Performance

Title link will take you to the PDF of an interesting, yet brief essay on Individual vs. Team performance, using a comparison between golf and curling. The essay was written in 1955 by Leonard Read of the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEE). FEE is a great organization that offers insight into how human action, government policy and economics work together.  Interestingly enough, I found that this essay uncovers what is often overlooked in lean principles: the sum of all the individual's performance is greater than the current team's performance - and worse, this is overlooked by too many people in the present.

Mr. Read's essay convinced me that this is due to people not recognizing individual performance over a large time scale, resulting in short term recognition of individual performance or a team's heroics. In other words, "we often can't see the forest for the trees."

This inability to look at a continuous series of individual performances over a long timescale manifest's itself in many ways: we tend to put high value on individual heroics and specialized teams in an extremely short timescale. In an organization, this attitude results in optimizing localized areas without consideration for the whole. The reason for this is that the short term outlook limits management to granting an individual and/or a specialized team authority to change only certain parts of an organization, not the whole. Another way to think about this is that transformational change can only happen in the long term, not the short term - which helps explain the inherent handicap we put on specialized teams and heroes.

As I read Mr. Read's essay, I couldn't help but think about the power of an individual's creativity in environments where this natural inclination is considered paramount. While considering this, the first thing that should come to mind for Leansters is the concept of kaizen teian. A long term outlook, with kaizen teian in mind, results in massive improvement inertia over the long haul that cannot be stopped. It is the type of improvement that I don't observe in most companies. Compare your company's improvement efforts of specialized "kaizen blitzkriegs" to those outlined in the book, "40 Years, 20 Million Ideas, The Toyota Suggestion System," and you get the idea of how individual creativity can transform an organization, one improvement at a time, into a high performing team. The tragic thing for most individuals in an organization is that management ends up making the decision on whether this transformation will happen or not.