The Hero Mentality: A Damaging Concept for Teamwork and Collaboration

The hero mentality is everywhere, and sport is a prime example. In football, the hero is the player that scores the goal. In cycling, it’s the rider who wins the sprint across the line. Even in mountaineering, the hero is the person who puts the flag at the top of the mountain.

However, the hero in each of these sports wouldn’t have achieved their accolade without the team behind them. Making the last-ditch tackles to prevent the opposition from scoring. Riding ahead for miles and miles to protect the energy of the sprint finisher. Carrying the excruciatingly heavy equipment that nourished and shielded the mountaineer on their way up the summit.

This same concept continues into the media, films, and television, as leading actors win the top prizes and fame. It’s no surprise, then, that this hero mentality trickles into our working and professional lives, too.

What does hero mentality look like at work?

In many organisations, value is placed on the individual contributions of specific heroes. They saved the day because they fought the biggest fire, they have the most extensive knowledge, or they do the biggest, most impressive thing.

And it’s great for the heroes, of course. They feel pretty good about themselves, gaining praise from the organisation top-to-bottom. What about the other people on the team?

Well, they don’t feel quite as good.

This hero mentality at work can be really damaging to the company as a whole. It can lead to information hoarding, so people wanting to keep ideas or projects to themselves. At the end of the day, it’s their individual contribution that is noticed and valued, so even though sharing is a better benefit for the rest of the team, there’s no incentive to do so.

Simply put, the hero mentality is a huge barrier to collaboration and teamwork.

Metrics that encourage this attitude

This hero-based mindset might be something that you, your team, or your company are encouraging completely by accident. It might have crept into your way of working without you even realising.

So, what encourages the hero mentality? Metrics like stack rankings are a great example. People are ordered based on things like the number of incidents they solve or the number of knowledge articles they create. This promotes competition and enforces the idea that if you’re first, then you’re the best.

It really comes down to the things we do, say, and reward. Now, our natural inclination isn’t necessarily always to be the hero. As humans, we do want to collaborate. We see value in this, and so do most organisations.

Shifting from the hero mentality to the team working mentality

If we value collaboration and teamwork, then why does the hero mentality so often take the forefront? And, how do we change this?

Looking at somebody’s individual contribution is undoubtedly very important for their own personal development. Team leaders and teams benefit from understanding performance on a person-to-person. Without this, we wouldn’t know how to improve, where we are lacking, or even if we’re happy with what we’re doing.

But often, that perspective completely misses the wider picture of how an individual collaborates, what they bring to the team and the organisation. So, what can we measure instead?

A great place to start is to encourage a feedback culture in the team. Collaborated on a project? Then give each other and the team lead feedback. How was value created? How was knowledge shared? How well did the team work together? This can also work with day-to-day responsibilities. How transparent is somebody on what they’re working on? Do they actively encourage others to collaborate with them?

Reviewing people based on their entire contribution to the team is so valuable for understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Set targets based on this. For example, the knowledge they want to gain/share or a project they want to start/join. Just looking at somebody’s number-based metrics, like tickets resolved, will not provide you with the same overall picture as the above method.

But these aren’t tangible metrics?

True. Reviewing somebody based on their willingness to learn or collaborate isn’t tangible in the same way ‘X number of knowledge articles created’ is. It’s not a case of ignoring the tangible metrics, but looking at them alongside other things, this is how we really combat hero mentality.

Consider how many knowledge articles an individual made, but also the quality of these articles. Or delve into how many training sessions they participated in and whether this has directly impacted the quality of work produced.

Bring the teamwork mentality into your everyday language, for example in catch-ups, appraisals, and when giving feedback. Focus not on these tangible metrics, but the wider collaboration picture. Make your team feel valued for their entire contribution, and value other’s contributions, then supplement this with those tangible things.

Small changes affect the bigger picture

It’s only through these small trickle-down changes where we see the value shift from the individuals at the top of the leader board to the team as a whole. And it might take a while, but these small changes will affect the bigger picture.

By transforming the things we reward and value, the whole team will become a much stronger and connected unit. No longer will there be one or two heroes who are appreciated for reaching the top of the mountain first, the entire team is instead valued for their contributions to the effort in reaching the summit. And this means you can push them further than you could before.

About the Author

Hannah Price is a Service Management Consultant and Agile Coach at TOPdesk UK. Hannah has over six years of experience in guiding organisations to achieve service excellence by connecting the people and technology, empowering teams to work better together.

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