Interventions: Teams versus Individuals
One of the key questions surrounding organisational interventions is the level at which the intervention will be primarily aimed.
Most efforts start at the individual level. Take most employee engagement oriented action plans: Listen to them, treat them well and provide both the resources required and a meaningful context in their work can translate to specific actions which affect every individual. These are effective levers that can and often do lead to increased organisational effectiveness.
However, whilst there is no denying the fact that the individual is a fundamental building block for any effort to influence organisational culture, it may not be enough. In most cases, team dynamics play a critical role. Having said that, the basic principles of organizational behavior point to a strong link between effectiveness at the individual and group levels, whilst effective group work translates to effectiveness at the organizational level.
Patrick Lencioni in his classic “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” is written as a fable that explores the 5 interrelated dysfunctions of most teams:
Absence of trust
Fear of conflict
Lack of commitment
Avoidance of accountability
Inattention to results
One of the consequences of the above dysfunctions is that employees may be less likely to care about what the group can achieve, focusing instead on achieving their own goals. This often undermines group goals, especially the absence of trust which for me is the most essential and often elusive building block.
Of course, there are many other factors behind well functioning organisations. Take for instance leadership behaviours. These can often negate (or positively re-inforce) actions at the individual and team levels. Another factor is the dynamic between an employee and his/her immediate supervisor. In fact, many studies point to this dynamic being one of the key determinants of job satisfaction and organisational engagement.
As with most change management efforts, we need to first recognise the nuanced, complex and multi-level nature of organisational dynamics. Simple, cookie-cutter approaches rarely work. They may even do more damage than good.