Why I Overestimate My Contribution to My Team

“When I die, I want all the people with whom I worked on group projects to lower me into my grave, so they can let me down one last time.” Someone once sent me this e-card as a joke. I laughed and laughed, and never forgot it. I can’t remember a school group project which teammembers contributed equally. Paradoxically, I bet everyone in the group felt the same way.

There’s a good reason I bristled in those group projects. Every person in a team overestimates his or her contributions to the team. The bigger the team, the greater the overestimation - “especially when group members’ unequal responsibility allocations are made explicit.” Add an egocentrist, someone who takes more credit, and the social dynamics boil.

Why does this happen?

I suffer from a terrible bias. I know intimately the hardships and sacrifices I make. The late nights. Dead ends. Frustrations from mistakes. I see myself toil.

But I fail to consider the work of others in as much detail. My teammates grind as much as I do. But I don’t see it. I’m myopic, nearsighted and focus on my travails. And I start to say things like “I deserve,” a toxic word.

How do I change? Ask me to consider the work others have done in great detail. My one-sidedness receds. My bias evaporates.

This overestimation bias is a important contributor to team dysfunction. And it’s a reason why constant communication engenders healthy teams. The more visibility teammates have into each other’s work, the greater the sense of common sacrifice and camaraderie.

Daily standups. Weekly all hands. Spot bonuses. Quarterly business reviews. These tools to spill sunshine on each of the teammates’ contributions. Those rays benefit the entire team.

If you observe myopia in your team, shine some light on the great work others are doing. Everyone will benefit.

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