Credit Where it’s Due – Tips for Appraising Teams

Credit Where it’s Due – Tips for Appraising Teams

By John Milsom

January is a common time for organisations to schedule annual appraisals into the Talent Calendar. As more work is completed in teams, this means that leaders are faced with the challenge of working out who has been responsible for the achievement of shared objectives (or otherwise). But doing this is not always easy, and raises the question of just how credit should be allocated on tasks requiring collaboration.

New research from Kellogg School of Management points towards systematic flaws in the way this is done and highlights practical takeaways to improve the accuracy of attributing responsibility for performance within teams.

The key finding from this research is that when reviewing the performance of teams there are systematic differences between the type of people who get the credit when things go well, and those who get the blame when things go wrong. Specifically, it seems that the contributions of more experienced and established team members who have developed a reputation over time are over-weighted when teams perform well, and under-weighted when teams underperform.

This means that, to coin a phrase, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with experienced team members being rated positively as a result of team successes, and more junior team members unduly punished for failures. At the same time therefore, less established team members are less likely to have their contributions recognised when they contribute to successful teams, whilst their experienced colleagues escape without being held accountable when expectations are not met.

As well demotivating staff, this effect has the potential to reinforce the status quo (such as established hierarchies or ways of work), stifle talent and innovation, and reduce the potential of teams to develop over time. Senior individuals may not receive the challenge and honest feedback they need to address their own role in failures, while junior or new staff involved in team efforts that do not go to plan will find themselves held disproportionately accountable and their careers stalled as a result. There are implications here for the development of a performance culture, continuous improvement, engagement, talent management as well as developing inclusivity.

Practical takeouts from the research for leaders though focus on the need to avoid using experience and reputation as a proxy for responsibility when looking to evaluate the performance of individuals within teams. As they say, “awareness is curative”, and so being conscious of avoiding this trap and thinking more deeply about the role individuals actually played in team results will be crucial. In particular, when we find ourselves giving credit to senior team members or holding less established individuals responsible when targets are missed we should be particularly careful, challenge our own thinking, look for contradictory data and seek a devils advocate to check our thinking.

What are your experiences of working in a team, or attributing credit to individuals to shared objectives?


John Milsom is Client Service Director at Wickland Westcott. He specialises in the Assessment and Development of senior Leaders, and has a particular interest in the performance of Executive Teams. For a confidential conversation on useful tips and solutions call John on 01625 508100 or email jmilsom@wickland-westcott.com.

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