Thoughts on individual incentives on self-organizing teams

During a thread on what metrics (if any) you would start collecting for a Scrum Team I stumbled across this reply.

In some cases, management will ask the Scrum Master to run a report on the amount of work completed by an individual team member. In other cases, they will do it themselves. But I think that in all this talk of “team” let’s not forget that some people contribute more than others and they should be rewarded as such through an incentive plan. So that metric is important.

I found myself feeling that I would be extremely careful to single out individual team members of a self-organized team. Not that it can’t ever be done, but I would want the team to first identify if they consider someone’s contribution, or lack thereof, a problem and a big enough problem to not solve it themselves.

Of course there can be members of a team that does way more than they should or way to less than all other team members. But if someone does way above what they should on a team the ideal situation is for the team to identify this and share the work in a better way. Likewise if the team feels someone i underperforming. But if a team identifies a problem that they themselves consider to be a problem and are unable to solve it themselves we should of course give them all the support they need.

Also, fostering a team sprit where people are there for each other, commit together and as a unit are accountable for their deliveries but then incentivize them as individuals could be counter productive. Say you have a team of sales people that you want to work as a team, but then you give them each individual bonus targets. What this often leads to is short term, self centered decisions. The sales guy who keeps information to himself, closes his small deal instead of helping a team member with a HUGE one (since he would not have “benefited” from it). Or the CEO who lays people off to have financial numbers that reach his targets so that he gets his bonus. How that affects the company long term is not his concern… often he has left for another company before that has to be dealt with anyway. And on and on…

I can see justification in incentives, but I would do all I can to have them on the team level (if they need to exist at all). That would then encourage the team to work even better together to reach whatever incentive there was as a team. Or better yet a profit sharing program for everyone on the company, which would foster collaboration across teams, departments and so on.

But one should keep in mind that incentives, just like KPI’s, can create behaviour that we might not have wished for or intended.

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