Today I spent some time listening to an audio version of Peter Drucker’s “Managing in a Time of Great Change” while riding a few trains in England. During a section about teams, I heard something that struck a chord with me. I have heard the term “Individual Contributor” a great number of times – especially as a manager. But, I had never heard the term “Individual Performer” before today and so I’d never heard them compared. It is in this comparison of the two terms that I really found value.

The premise is that a team is made up of people that contribute. Therefore, it stands to reason that, individual members of teams are usually individual contributors. Individual contributors serve the team and the results strived for are team results. The same cannot be said for individual performers. Individual performers are striving for individual results and so they don’t really function as team members. Individual performers aren’t inherently bad – few things are. But, as a worker, you have to make sure you know when to function as an individual performer or as an individual contributor. ¬†As a manager, you have to set measures and expectations that steer people towards one or the other.

This topic reminds me of the story of Carmelo Anthony and how, though he was a mega-superstar, his team lost more when he played. It stands to reason that he was an individual performer rather than an individual contributor. It makes sense. A superstar title is given to an individual person. Striving for superstars builds a demand for individual performers. When candidates for superstardom have to choose between themselves or a team, what will they pick? Most of the time, we want to strive for superteams, not superstars.

In order to build superteams, we need to teach people that contributing well is performing. One of the biggest thing managers can do to foster this is to focus on team performance metrics rather than individual performance metrics. Sometimes the best contributor to the team can have the worst looking individual metrics because she is doing whatever it takes to make the team move forward and isn’t worrying about how it looks for herself.

I’m sure there’s a lot more under the surface of this topic, but I wanted to get the thought out there… sow the seeds. Maybe let it germinate a bit so we can discuss it in comments or future blog posts. Share any thoughts you have on this topic in the comments section below.

Related Link: The Problem with Rewarding Individual Performers (HBR)