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Team or self development - who comes first?

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

What is the best approach to personal and team development?

Which approach will enable the greatest benefits?

Questions asked by most managers at some point, and quite a dilemma to overcome in a world focussed on continuous professional development. But is it as difficult as it seems? This post attempts to answer this question.

Since the start of time humans have strove to learn. Its in our DNA. The instinctive need to keep ahead of competitors in the primitive struggle for survival (and outwit those predators out there). Times have moved on, I'm glad to say, as humans have developed structured societies over millennia to what we see around us today, be it capitalist, socialist or one of the many other forms society's take around the world.

However the instinctive need to learn, develop and grow remains within our psyche.

Consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs illustrated below.

Maslow's Heirachy of Needs (, 2012)

It is an extremely well known, but very basic model which, although developed over 100 years ago, still bares relevance today.

Why is this when technology, lifestyle and human expectations are so different from those which Maslow experienced around him in the early 20th century?


The answer is simple; basic fundamentals of human psychology is the same as it ever was. We are human beings first and foremost and those basic primitive instincts, I mentioned previously, remain.


Back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs......

The model is based on the fact that humans are wanting animals. As each need is satisfied we develop a new need, each with higher or more complex expectations than the previous.

I'm sure you already know why am I telling you?

Because once we have satisfied those basic psychological needs of safety and security (a roof over our head, food in our belly and a safe and secure environment) we start to move towards egoistic needs. In a modern business setting this begins with continuous professional development otherwise known as CPD.

CPD can lead to a sense of belonging, CPD can lead to recognition of achievements and abilities and most of all CPD can lead us to the ultimate achievement of self actualisation.


If actualisation is targeted at one's self then surely the answer to the initial question of this post is easy right?

If you were to assume this then you are correct, however it may not be the answer you assume it to be. The opposite in fact!


So what is the answer?

Consider this logic.

  • A manager's performance will generally be measured on the performance of the section or function that they are responsible for.

  • The performance of the people within any section or function will largely influence, if not dictate, the performance of said section or function.

  • Therefore focus on developing the performance of the people will improve the performance of the section or function.

  • In turn this will improve the manager's performance in the eyes of their seniors and inevitably support the business objectives.


What's that I hear you sounds great, but it doesn't actually improve or develop the manager, the improved performance of their section or function is simply a product of the performance of their people.....


This is true. However if each manager throughout the business' hierarchy focusses on their people, an upward pulling effect is created through a development chain; i.e. if a manager focusses on their direct reports and their manager focus on them and this continues throughout the organisation, then naturally each person, regardless of their level in the business, will develop. See the diagram below illustrating this.

Management CPD Focus v Employee Development

It is quite a simple concept once understood but will only be successful if it is maintained throughout the organisational hierarchy. As soon as the development chain is broken people will naturally revert back to instinctive behaviours and focus on themselves first and foremost. This doesn't mean that managers suddenly ignore development of their people but their primary focus will change. This will be felt by the people in their section or function and will breed the same behaviours in a domino effect, therefore will not enable the full potential of the people as individuals or their section, function or business as a whole.

So next time you are considering CPD think team first and your own development will naturally follow.

The above blog is based on the Theory Y management principles identified by Douglas McGregor in his book The Human Side of Enterprise, published by McGraw Hill, ISBN 0070450986.

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