Appreciating Individual Strengths: Does It Hurt Teamwork?

Individual strengths and teamwork are not at odds with each other. In fact, they are innately connected.  Why then do so many leaders think that appreciating individual strengths will hurt teamwork?

This is an important issue in this time of asking people at work to do more with less. Study after study shows that appreciation/recognition is the one key thing management can do to inspire and motivate effort and performance

Appreciate Individual Strengths & Teamwork Image

Leaders, you could argue that the appreciation could be given to the whole team and not the individuals. Yes that is true.  Yet, you run the risk of the appreciation sounding shallow and repetitious if it lacks specifics.

You could argue that the individual appreciation could be given in private and team kudos in public. Yes that is true.  Yet it cheats the entire team out of the chance to:

  1. Participate in building a culture of identifying and appreciating the strengths that individuals contribute to the team’s results
  2. Learn what individual strengths exist on the team for future success and
  3. Witness the joy that their individual teammates experience when honored for their strengths.

As a leader, what can you do to ensure that individual appreciation won’t hurt teamwork?

  1. Honor diversity. Don’t fall into the trap of honoring only those individuals who are very much like you.
  2. Highlight how the individual strengths contributed to the team’s results.
  3. Recognize both the individual strengths on tasks and also on the interpersonal skills which contribute to the team’s results.
  4. Applaud the effort of all who blended the individual strengths into team results.

What else helps the team value each individual’s strengths as well as the total results? Or do you think that this is all very risky? I welcome your comments below.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, delivers transformational team building workshops and advice that empower you to remove teamwork obstacles — big and small. See this site for more information

12 Responses to “Appreciating Individual Strengths: Does It Hurt Teamwork?”

  1. Kate, in your opening comments and in Dan’s response, there is great insight we can all apply to some very valuable leadership tools, gratitude, appreciation, and recognition. These three tools when applied appropriately are very powerful. When they are used well, we get great outcomes, when we use them inappropriately, we do not. Here are some examples:
    GRATITUDE – when someone benefits us or the team, expressing gratitude is not only appropriate, it encourages repetition of the action we are grateful for.
    APPRECIATION – what we appreciate, we add value. We may appreciate a skill, a talent, or an action of another. When we express the appreciation through our own words or actions we show that we recognize that value.
    RECOGNITION – While gratitude and appreciation are feelings that we express, recognition is the action of expressing them. We may feel gratitude or appreciation, but no one knows it until we express it through recognition.
    SUMMING IT UP: From my perspective how we recognize others makes all the difference. If we do it too much, it matters less when it really should matter. If we do not do it enough, is seems ungrateful or unappreciative. Whether we are talking about individuals or teams, it is a matter of balance, appropriateness, and consistency.
    Thanks for inviting me to the discussion. Hope you are having a great week!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Joan, You hit a home run with the simple statement — “how we recognize others makes the difference” — and very glad you contributed to this post.

  2. Kate,

    I have played on teams the majority of my life, from pee wee football to the NFL. There is one thing that leaders (coaches) can do to help everyone balance the recognition of individual strengths and contribution and that is discipline. When celebrating and highlighting accomplishments, people also look to see if the “often” celebrated will have to abide by the same rules. This is very important to the culture because the team comes to expect praise and celebration for doing well and being held accountable for actions that do not reflect the team culture. It also helps everyone understand that the “celebration” and “recognition” does not put anyone above the team. If leaders model this properly a “self-regulated”, team-centered culture will emerge where the team values celebrating and correcting each other.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Love the fact that you connected celebration with being accountable. Many skeptics think that positive kudos lead to laziness. Not if they are following your advice. Also wanted to mention that many people have pushed aside teamwork analogies that relate to sports. Yet the teamwork picture you painted is very applicable to business teams as well. Great insights.


  3. Jim Morgan says:

    I’m thinking with a smile of a team of machinists that had team-based pay forced on it with inadequate preparation. The members all shifted their work stations so they could face each other—not to collaborate better, but to keep an eye on each other!

    In the United States, at least, a manager has no choice but to recognize individual performance to some degree. There are many exceptions, but on average an American-born worker has been conditioned to expect it and will be resentful if he or she feels under appreciated for his or her efforts. I like the suggestions in Kate’s post and the comments. If you have to use a formal performance appraisal, I recommend recognizing individual strengths while encouraging a team focus by having metrics that apply to the team as a whole; each individual as a team player; and each as an individual contributor.

    I agree that public praise has value, but be sure you are giving credit to everyone involved. That might even mean praising the team for being wise enough to defer to the expert member on a particular issue! Also, if you don’t find reasons to praise everyone on occasion, you will demotivate part of the team. Of course, if you *can’t* find reasons to praise someone, maybe that person should not be on the team, eh?

    Thank you, Kate, and good thoughts, all. See? Praise for the individual and the group! 🙂

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Jim, The machinists story is priceless. Team based pay forced on a team. Wow — what a miss. Were they already a true team? Sounds like a disaster that will echo with morale problems for quite some time.

  4. Jane Perdue says:

    Kate —
    Good post! And great diversity of thought in the responses provided!
    One other angle for leaders to consider and that’s creating a team culture in which team members provide recognition, appreciation and gratitude (thanks, Joan!) to one another. Not all kudos need be top-down. Peer-to-peer praise can reap rich rewards, too.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Right on Jane. Not all recognition and appreciation needs to come from the top. As a leader does, so can everyone else. All the more reason for the leader to do it in public so that others understand the culture the leader believes in.

      And I also agree with you about the diversity of comments on this post. I am grateful to all.

  5. Jen Kuhn says:

    Hi Kate,
    Great observations. I often hear managers say they shouldn’t praise an employee for “doing their job”. This is mind boggling to me, yet I hear it time and again. I use the example of children, pets and ourselves. I give specific examples then ask: “If you ignore the positive behavior over time, what is the likelihood it will continue?” Most managers state that it will either diminish in frequency or stop. I would agree. For some, it takes many examples to even get to the point to agree to use positive reinforcement more frequently, if at all.
    It’s difficult to create a team culture if everyone has to outperform others just to be noticed. Therefore, I fully support your thoughts on building a team through individual recognition. I also appreciate the dialog and insight others have brought to the conversation. Very enlightening.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      The managers that are saying they shouldn’t praise employees for doing their jobs are missing the value and power of recognition completely. Recognition reinforces (as you mentioned) and inspires both great behavior AND new possibilities of untapped potential. Here’s hoping that our blogging, comments, and insights will have at least some positive power to change the thinking.

      Thanks for the illustration.

  6. Gina says:

    There is a place for both. But I would determine this based on how the team works together. If you have a team where some people are always the shining stars and the rest sit back quietly- I would approach that differently than if you have a team that truly works as equals. They should be rewarded as a team. For those that stand out- they should get some personal recognition- but look out for the quiet ones that may be secretly seething over another’s accolades.

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