top of page

Personal development versus team development

Personal development is something we all should do

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to come across a job posting that either promotes using 10% of your working time for personal development or requires applicants to do personal development regularly . Personal development has become such a trendy and commonplace topic that it is hard not to hear about it on a daily or weekly basis.

The idea behind developing your skills related to your industry or working tasks makes sense. From an employee perspective it provides you with the feeling of accomplishment and makes your daily work tasks easier to do and manage. From an employer's point of view employees that develop themselves are a great asset. Employers want their employees to be able to keep creating new and competitive products, and at the same time do more by doing their work more efficiently.

But wait, we work in teams!

Personal development has its place in life and the workplace, there is no denying that. But I have rarely heard of someone developing their communication or teamwork skills alone. Even though different jobs have different amounts of team and individual work involved, teamwork is almost always present.

A well-functioning team consists of experts that have gained their skills through education, experience, and personal development. However, these individuals need to work together and the better they can manage that, the better the team functions. Issues between team members and insufficient processes for how the team should work together cause a lot of friction that eventually leads to harmful stress. This is where team development comes in.

In my opinion the key difference between personal and team development is that personal development focuses on skills, team development focuses on processes and how to be a good team member. The difference can be demonstrated in a simple example of a common work situation.

Let’s say that team members experience too much workload, and the working pace is too fast. This is something everyone can relate to in modern work. Let’s look at the different solutions for such an issue from individual level and the team level

  • Personal development

  • Learn skills related to daily tasks to do them faster

  • Learn how to prioritize your work better

  • Learn to manage stress better

  • Team development

  • Prioritize and distribute work better in the team

  • Develop better processes for setting deadlines and scope of work

  • Share knowledge within team to distribute work more evenly

  • Set up clear and daily goals

  • Agree on regular working hours

There are some similarities between the two lists, but the core difference is that team development offers a wider variety of solutions, and they all relate to a process, which can be followed after it has been defined. Personal development options are usually about learning, where team development is about agreeing about rules and processes to try out. Moreover, with a topic such as workload, there is only so much an individual can do.

All aspects of work and teamwork can be improved. I have written here my personal experience of one aspect that I have experienced multiple times during my career. First time I was a newbie to work life, and later a team leader or company founder. In the end it does not matter what your position in the organization or team is, everyone should contribute towards a more functional team.

Improving communication. As mentioned, this is something I have bumped into many times, and will do in the future. It is my favorite improvement area because I value good communication more than anything, the more the better. The problem arises when changes to plans and schedules, unseen challenges and other important things are not communicated clearly and in a timely manner to all team members. This can happen inside the team, from management to team or from team to another team.

The benefits of excellent communication are great. It reduces the number of unpleasant surprises and the feeling of being neglected. In addition, excellent communication allows people to prepare and react to the changes better.

How do we improve communication then? Communication can always be improved, but a good starting point is that the team creates rules and processes for communication. In short, agree what are the things that should always be communicated and where the communication should happen. Good options for this are the team chat or the daily team meeting. If the process is not being followed, team members bring the topic up to again to remind, not to blame.

The funny thing is that bad communication is not intentional, different people consider different things worth communicating. What I have learned is that if you can, just overcommunicate. It might annoy some people, but it at least gets the message through, and others also see what you are up to.

How to do team development?

Team development can be done in many ways. For example, the frequency of team development varies between different methods such as workshops (quarterly for a whole day), team retrospectives (2 hours every 2-3 weeks) and continuous improvement (30 minutes a week). Even though these are different approaches, they have a lot of common key aspects.

First, someone needs to facilitate the discussion. The role of facilitator is to guide the team through the steps and discussions, and make sure that the team is moving forward. This is usually the team leader, but it can be anyone from the team.

Second, these methods follow a similar high-level structure which consists of the following steps

  1. Identify and decide what needs to be improved

  2. Plan how the chosen area can be improved

  3. Follow the plan to improve the area

  4. Measure or validate that the change was successful

Third, they all promote open and safe environments to discuss together, where no one is blamed or judged. In my experience, things can get heated (in both good and bad ways) during team development. So, it is good to establish guidelines for the discussion and have a break if needed. I use the rule of what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. There can’t be bad blood after the session.

Overall team development is quite simple to practice, but as with everything else, it can be more or less efficient depending on how you do it. The main thing is that you do it and find what fits your team the best. Keep in mind the third point of having a safe environment for the team discussion. People are different and in arguments it is easy to say something that can be found offensive even if you wouldn’t mean anything by it. Start the team development by establishing a safe and open environment to discuss. It will pay off.

How to get started?

By now you know that both personal and team development have their place in work life. Team development should be on every team’s list of recurring activities. It makes the work more productive and, more importantly, more enjoyable for everyone.

If you haven’t yet tried team development, I strongly suggest doing so. The first step is to be brave and suggest to your team of doing so. It can be as simple as proposing “let’s sit down and discuss openly how can we work better together”.

In case you want more structure and guided facilitation to your team development, you can try our Leapto solution with a free trial with your team. It provides an easy and straightforward way to start team development.

bottom of page