We’re in the business of creating tools and technology for collaboration. Everything we do is focused on making it easier for teams to work together and “get stuff done.” But putting the best tools in place isn’t going to create teamwork from thin air. If your organizational culture doesn’t actually reward people for working together, tools alone won’t make it happen.

Few people would disagree that teamwork delivers results. But for decades, recognition systems in business have focused on individual achievement. This encourages the belief that if you want to get ahead, you have to make all the magic on your own – or at least make sure you’re the person to get the credit for it.

Have you ever been in one of those giant quarterly team meetings where four or five people are called out as superstars? How many of those people truly did it all on their own? How many times have you been sitting in that meeting thinking that Bob and Jane got accolades, but the project was a massive team effort? It’s a good way to convince people that getting attention is more important than making an effort. And if you’re not likely to be rewarded for your effort, why put in the effort?

It’s time to prioritize collective efforts over competition.

quotes about teamwork
Click image to download full file.

I’m not suggesting we hand out participation ribbons to people just for showing up. Nor am I saying that it’s time to abandon the Most Valuable Player recognition.

I certainly wouldn’t deny Madison Bumgarner his MVP award for the 2014 World Series. But although he was a standout player, the San Francisco Giants won the series as a team. And the rewards and recognition for that win are shared throughout the organization, from the field to the office staff. Would the full organization be as committed if all the glory went to the pitcher? Probably not.

Michael Schrage from the MIT Center for Digital Business nets it out pretty simply. If you want to encourage teamwork, reward it. And not just a little. In his Harvard Business Review article “Reward Your Best Teams, Not Just Star Players,” he turns it into simple math: a 50/50 split.

“For every executive utterance praising a high-impact individual, there should be an equally emphatic expression of support for a high-achieving team… Teams, not just individuals, should get their fair share of bonus pools. A perceived — or real — absence of fairness can cripple team culture.”
Michael Schrage, MIT

For people to want to participate fully in teams, they need to feel that it’s beneficial to them as individuals as well. They want to know that leaders recognize the roles they play and reward their efforts as part of the team’s success. And that’s another important element – bringing together the right people in the right roles.

If you want employees to collaborate, the first two steps are simple: First, create an environment that prioritizes teamwork. Then provide the tools to make it work.

Get more information on tools and strategies for teamwork.

P.S. If American sports aren’t your thing, consider the recent Grammy Awards. Adele won several awards. And although it’s her voice you hear in the songs, this is who you saw on stage as she accepted – and intentionally broke – an award. Her team.


Kim Austin

No Longer with Cisco