Staff Management – The Foundation Fallacy That Misleads Managers


It’s fashionable to praise personal accomplishment at work. Realistically you can’t achieve much success at work without lots of help. For decades we’ve been taught that the individual is the basic human unit in the workplace. That’s The Foundation Fallacy.

The Reality

The basic human unit in the workplace is the group or team. Any other claim is a fallacy. That’s the reality of staff management. In the corporate world where most of us dwell, it’s simply not enough to be a brilliant individual. The greatest rewards should and usually do go to the most effective team members and leaders.

The Fallacy And Teamwork

The individual accomplishment fallacy inhibits effective teamwork. We extol the virtues of the backroom boffin who becomes the Technical Director in just a few years. Fact is, no one manages rapid advancement without a lot of help from mentors, colleagues and subordinates.

A Sad Reflection

It’s beyond my comprehension how a CEO of a poorly performing business can receive an individual performance bonus. Some do. Paying individual rewards to managers heading poorly performing teams is a sad reflection of how The Foundation Fallacy has muddled even senior management minds.

The Social Manager

Corporations are made up of individuals. But each is a members of a team or teams. The more successful you are in the corporation, the more your success is dependent on your team effectiveness. A senior manager is a social manager. He or she is a member of a number of teams and the leader of at least one team. And everyone’s a team member: from the lowest paid employee to the highest. That’s the fundamental truth of effective staff management.

What’s A Work Team?

In the workplace a team is identified by four simple characteristics.

  • The team has clearly defined goals.
  • If one person in the team doesn’t do their job well, someone else in the team can’t do theirs well either.
  • Individuals depend on the help of other team members to achieve their work goals.
  • The goals of the overall team are more important than the goals of the individual members.

When I use the word “team” that’s what I mean.

Take care. We often use the word team to describe a group of people at work who do the same or similar work, e.g. “sales team”. This doesn’t mean it’s an effective team. It may not even be accurate. For instance, the “sales team” includes support staff. But some salespeople don’t see support staff as important members of the “sales team”.

Business Is About Team Effectiveness Not Friendship

I’ve been involved in team development for decades. I published a book about it back in 1984. As time has passed, one belief has been reinforced constantly: building effective teams at work is about working well together to achieve business goals. It’s not about good interpersonal relationships. When people achieve success by effective workplace co-operation and collaboration, they’ll learn to like each other. At the very least they’ll learn to accommodate each other’s idiosyncrasies.

The Fallacy And Personal Relationships

Work isn’t a “love in”. Unfortunately many attempts to develop “teamwork” are concerned with building better interpersonal relationships between team members. I’ve experienced many examples where close interpersonal bonds interfered with effective team performance. In these cases, individuals were not willing to risk upsetting a personal relationship for the good of the overall team.

The Team Building Fallacy

The team or group is the basic unit. It simply exists. It doesn’t need to be built. You’re stuck with whom you’ve got. Managers are expected to develop the people in their team. Forget individuals and team building. Concentrate on team development. When a new person joins the company, he or she becomes a team member. Any other interpretation is a fallacy.

Staff Selection And The Fallacy

By this stage you’ll know that I don’t think it’s important to concern yourself about whether team members “get on” well. But I believe that it’s most important that

  • they’re competent and demonstrably so
  • they respect others’ competence
  • they value team effectiveness above their own
  • they’re prepared to share roles with other team members.

Are these matters major criteria in your selection practices? Do you stress them during the formal “probation” period? Do you work to develop team effectiveness during probation?

New Mindsets To Avoid Fallacy

Effective team performance demands new mindsets. Managers need to recognize the importance of teams in achieving corporate goals and in developing competent performance among members. Individuals need to understand that being a “star” performer isn’t as important as being an effective contributor to a “star team”.

A Simple Example

Relationships between teams are most important too. One of my client companies specializes in home maintenance plumbing. They seek to ensure that from the moment of first contact to job completion, the customer is continuously and unfailingly satisfied. Each team member and each team involved makes a commitment to make this happen. Total customer satisfaction through inter-team performance and co-operation is the aim.

A Team Development Mentality

You need a team development mindset to eliminate the Foundation Fallacy. Think about how you could avoid the fallacy in

  • management development
  • management training
  • reward and incentive schemes
  • effective performance systems
  • performance standards
  • inter-team effectiveness

And think about how you might be impeding the growth and profitability of your business by accepting the fallacy unwittingly.


The team is the basic human unit in the workplace. Effective team performance overrides individual performance which in turn must contribute to effective team performance. If it doesn’t, it’s not truly effective. Ensure that you don’t overemphasize the development or the achievement of individuals to the detriment of the team and the overall business.

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