"Another Brutal Whipping, Euro Style…"

Did I just wake up from a bad dream, or did the US actually just lose ANOTHER Ryder Cup by ANOTHER unthinkable margin? I know what you’re saying- “He writes his first column in months ,and right out of the box we have to endure yet another set of golf analogies! Just hang with me, because there’s a jewel of a message in this one.

There’s been a lot of “armchair quarterbacking” (to really mix metaphors) around this year’s Ryder Cup matches, as there has been for the last 6 years since we actually won one of those darn things. The losses have been blamed on everything from the weather, to the home team crowd, to individual personalities involved. But now, the focus of every pundit (and rightly so) has shifted to the concept, however abstract it may be, of TEAM. One look at any of the Euro’s after they’ve won a point, and it becomes clear to anyone that they possess a team spirit that the US athletes can only hope for.

There is a dimension of teamwork that, although ethereal in nature, is noticeably missing from the American team. Each of the American team members have won numerous times, and earned enough qualifying points to actually make it to that elite group, often year on year for many years. They have a competitive drive that is unmatched anywhere in the world. These guys are the best in their profession….INDIVIDUALLY that is. But watch them in team competition, and many of them indisputably fall to pieces.

And this should be no surprise, right? We’ve all seen it in other sports where a well known “Prima Donna”, because of there over-inflated ego takes an entire team down with them. Sometimes, they do it within a game or match where, individually they have far superior individual stats. And it’s often followed by the explanation that they did their part, it was just the rest of the team….which ironically is code for “ there was NO TEAM” .

So what can this teach us about performance management? Well for starters, teamwork beats individual performance every time, and often many times over. Here in the US, that dimension is not always clear. Just look at our incentive plans, hiring strategies, meeting dynamics, managerial approaches, and executive compensation- just about every part of American culture revolves around a strong individual presence. I once heard this referred to in Australian as the “tall poppy syndrome”, something the US Ryder team had apparently contracted “in spades” over the past six years. And it can kill your Performance Management process, jus as easily as it stole the life out of those 12 disappointed Americans last Sunday.

Here’s a short list of things that can be done to ensure you don’t get crushed by the “tall poppy”:

Have collective goals that people can identify with
Ok, this one is the no brainer of the list, but it is amazing how few companies do this well. Try this next time you run across a team of individuals from the same department, business unit, whatever- ask them what the single most important goal is, and how they can contribute to its achievement. Guaranteed- half of them will give you some pie in the sky corporate objective that they have only a small prayer of individually influencing, or you’ll get a blank stare. To be part of a real team, you need 20/20 line of sight between your role and the team objective you’re trying to reach.

Understand team dynamics (on and off the course)
one of the things I noticed in the European team dynamics was the comfort they had with each other…lots of conversations, few of them appeared to have anything to do with golf. And you just got the sense they knew, liked, and genuinely cared for each other, as could be seen by those emotional exchanges between Darren Clark and his teammates. Get to know your mates, what drives them (personally and professionally), and then apply that to the task at hand.

Relish in team success, even amidst personal failure
I heard and interview with one of the European players, and I could hardly believe what I was hearing (of course I’m an American listening like an American!). He said, to paraphrase, “When I started playing poorly, I just realized it wasn’t my day, and turned my attention to doing anything I could for my partner- from encouraging him to sharing advice or just pumping him up by telling him how great he was at such and such a shot.” Thinking as an individual, that’s a damn hard thing to do when you’re emotionally down, but as a team thinker, it’s essential.

Balance individual compensation approaches with team incentives
If you’re like most companies, you base your incentives on individual versus team compensation. Nothing wrong with strong individual rewards, but only if it is balanced by the same strength in team rewards. But keep in mind the “line of sight principle”. A team reward can’t be for 3000 employees because the line of sight connection between their actions (both individual actions and cross member impacts of those actions) is weak or non existent. Research has shown that programs like “gain-sharing” work best when the workgroup is less than 100”. Remember, the Euro Ryder Cup team was 12.

Penalize the overgrown “poppy”
So what do you do with a “tall poppy” when you see one. Well, if you have a high performing team in place, then the answer is nothing, as the other team members will take care of that for you. But if you’re just getting started and trying to transform toward a team environment from a strong individual one, then the answer is REMOVE IT FAST. The “individual ego” is an easy place to fall back to because it is too “comfortable” for many of us. It is a powerful enemy in your team building efforts, takes root far more quickly and easily than teamwork does, and spreads like a cancer throughout your business.

…And here’s one that may even save you some money- next time the Ryder Cup comes around, you might want to place your bet on the guys on the other side of the pond!


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com

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