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Recognizing Individual Performance on Group Projects

By Julian Mercer

Team-oriented projects typically bring together a group of individuals who contribute their different skills, backgrounds and experiences toward accomplishing a common goal. While the primary goal of any collaborative project is to achieve and celebrate a successful collective outcome, it’s also important to recognize and motivate individual performance by giving credit where credit is due.

For many managers, recognizing individual performance on group projects can be a challenge. Unless they’re involved in the team’s day-to-day workflow, managers often lack insight into group dynamics and the contributions that each team member is making to the collective whole.

Here are some suggestions to help managers recognize individual performance and contributions in a team or project setting:

  1. At the beginning of the project, establish clear roles and responsibilities for each team member as part of the project plan, in addition to appropriate group and individual milestones and metrics for the project. Everyone should know what is expected of them, both individually and collectively, so that they can take ownership of their roles and contributions. Those expectations can be captured and used by managers to evaluate individual performance.
  2. Meet individually with the team leader or project manager at regular intervals to get reports on project status and feedback on any issues requiring management attention. Use these meetings to solicit the team leader’s feedback on individual contributions and any issues with individual performance.
  3. Sit in on a team meeting near the mid-point of the project timeline. Team meetings should give each member the opportunity to report on their progress and any challenges they are facing. This ensures that everyone is on track and provides an opportunity to identify potential roadblocks or needs. The check-in also provides an opportunity to observe the team’s interpersonal dynamics. Quick roundtable reports can give you a sense of individual contributions and performance issues.

The mid-point is a good time because by then, the project should be up to speed. At the same time, it’s early enough to make course corrections and deal with any issues that may have emerged. Let your team leader run the meeting. You are there to listen, take notes and respond to questions. But if the project has run into a major roadblock or critical issue that you can help resolve, you may need to provide advice or direction.

Don’t overdo it by regularly participating in team meetings. Your constant presence will undermine the team leader’s authority and discourage the team leader from exercising leadership and taking responsibility for outcomes.

  1. When the project is complete, consider inviting team members to provide you with direct feedback on how the project went and what they contributed. This can be done through a one-on-one conversation or by email. This is particularly useful when the team is made up of individuals from different departments who are not direct reports. Share any issues raised with your team leader and invite their own assessment of the project, while keeping the source of the input confidential. Take notes that you can use later when conducting performance reviews of your direct reports.
  2. Ask the team leader to conduct a post-mortem meeting for the project with you and the team, which is designed to assess what went well and what lessons were learned that will avoid problems or improve outcomes in the future. Post-mortems are also known as Project Reviews or Project Evaluations and are generally recommended as part of the project wrap-up. The post-mortem can be used to acknowledge key contributions and thank contributors, just be careful not to step on the toes of your team leader in allocating credit. In my management roles when participating in post-mortems, I tried to reinforce the team leader’s comments where possible and to acknowledge each team member directly, by noting how their work contributed to the success of the project. It is also a great opportunity to thank them individually and collectively for their contribution.
  3. Once the project is complete, it’s important to announce the outcome and celebrate the team’s success. This can be done in various ways, such as an interdepartmental email, a group lunch or social, an article published in the company’s intranet website, or some appropriate perk. Be sure to acknowledge each team member and their role in any communication. Leaving out a name can be demoralizing or aggravating to those not acknowledged, so you may want to forgo personal acknowledgements in favor of a general acknowledgement if the project was supported by a large team.

It is not uncommon that some members of the team contribute more than others to the success of the outcome.  It is important to communicate to those individuals that you recognize their critical contributions and will reward them appropriately. This is best done in a one-on-one if they’re a direct report, or in a communication shared with the supervisor responsible for evaluating their performance. It is also appropriate to recognize critical individual contributions in a group setting, but make sure everyone’s contributions, whether large or small, are recognized in some way.

Remember that recognizing individual performance on group projects is about balancing individual contributions with the overall success of the team. By establishing clear roles and responsibilities, using clearly communicated metrics and milestones as evaluation tools, having regular check-ins, encouraging self-reflection, recognizing team efforts, and soliciting feedback from team members, you can help ensure that everyone gets appropriate credit for their contributions while reinforcing team collaboration.

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Julian Mercer

Julian Mercer is a retired executive, with more than 30 years’ experience in the technology sector as a leader, manager, consultant, and teacher.

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