The old adage that a work team is more effective for solving problems and sparkinginnovation than individual efforts holds true in business. For this reason, many leaders try to form teams to harness the strengths of their employees and many of these efforts fail. Why? Rarely does that leader reflect on their business culture to determine if individual achievement is favored over collective success. As a result, how individuals or teams are rewarded and funded often predicts success or failure.

Therefore it is useful to review two distinct business models to determine where your company fits.

Individualistic Model

The business model practiced in the United States is fairly homogenous. In this model, individuals are vertically skilled and compete with other employees for promotion. Upward promotion is based on linear individual achievement and competition for advancement is based on the success of the individual.

Some workers describe this model as “dog eat dog” and “clawing your way to the top”.

Training is offered for technical skill development to prepare a manger for upward promotion. Opportunities for achievement are directed by others. In this culture, freedom and authority increase through promotion and leadership skills are learned through trial and error and on the fly.

Collaborative, Team-based Model

Employees are horizontally and vertically skilled and have cross-functional strengths. Opportunity for advancement is the result of relationship skills – such as being able to confront issues, communicate clearly, solve problems and resolve conflict –  and endorsement from team members. Team achievement, relational skills, team coordination skills, and respect from other team members are selection criteria when opportunities for advancement surface.

Training is focused on cross-functional achievement and opportunities for promotion come as a result of self-directed activities. Freedom and authority are realized as a group. Employees have opportunities to advance horizontally as well as vertically, based on learning, work, and team skills. Work is multi-dimensional and teams earn bonuses rather than a few people at the top of the organization.

Therefore, teams fail when team leaders and members lack the support, resources, relational skill training and recognition often withheld in the individualistic model.