Q: One of my team members continues to take credit for my work and has even been rewarded by management for my original ideas. I don’t want to leave the company — do you have any advice?
A: Unfortunately, your situation is not uncommon. Working on any team requires a delicate balance of collaborative idea generation and work product while maintaining some individuality. When team members co-opt intellectual capital, it is not only unethical — it precipitates disintegration of the team members’ relationships and the group’s overall effectiveness.
In contrast, high-performing teams are made up of members who promote mutual respect for teammates; possess a high degree of social and self-awareness to effectively manage the emotional and decisionmaking needs of other members; and, most importantly, maintain an authentic level of trust within the group such that everyone rightfully acknowledges individual ideas and collectively agrees to use intellectual property for the good of team and organizational goals.
A few suggestions: First, have an honest conversation with your manager about your situation; explain your concerns about intellectual capital and describe your existing team culture. You must share information in order to seek resolution. If you do not feel comfortable speaking to your immediate supervisor, find a manager or human resources employee you trust.
Second, if your company is indeed rewarding individual employees for “team” ideas, the organization’s reward/recognition process is counterproductive to the company’s required teamwork. Workplace recognition programs are part of, and help determine, an organization’s culture. Assuming your company is fostering a positive, ethical climate, determine where the recognition program emanates from: human resources, specific managers, C-Suite officers? Meet with this individual/department to discuss how the existing employee rewards system is affecting your work product and could potentially permeate the company’s overall culture toward individualism at all costs. Hopefully they will see merit in developing a rewards system that will equitably benefit all team members.
Nicole Zwieg Daly is the director of consulting and programming at the Center for Ethical Organizations at the University of St. Thomas.