Why Individual Contributor (IC) is not a good term

The Individual Contributor (IC) term is often used to distinguish team members who has no mangerial set of responsibilities from those who has. The problem with it is that it can drive a culture of scoping, measuring and rewarding work per individuals rather than teams.


Is the term in and by itself bad? Of course not. Just like almost any other term or word, the context in which they are used and/or the intention behind using them is what could make for a good or a bad impact. Specifically, the bad impact here is when it undermines our efforts to move to the mindset of teams (why is that a problem? because Teams are more important ;).

Some examples where IC can be harmless

  • using it in a contract as a shorthand to say that the role/job does not include any managerial responsiblities
  • two managers having a private conversation and using IC, lead, manager and other terms for operational/contractual distinction
  • private conversation between a team member and her manager, talking generally about career path: So you think you’d prefare to focus on IC path or you thinking of taking up some people management responsibilities in the future?

Some examples where IC can be dangerous

  • a manager who’s thinking whether ICs should be consulted or included in making hiring, process or team commitment decisions

    When you think of a team, every team member counts and should be included (to reasonable extent) in decisions that has impact on the entire team

  • a team member using the term to shield themselves or other team members from the responsiblities of keeping the team together

    When you are a member of a team, you share the responsibility of this team’s health and functionality with the rest of its members

  • using it widely in the industry, as-if we have two pools of people: the ICs and the managers

    People are too complex and adaptive (surprise!) to be boxed in a general fashion. Esp. in our industry, people can easily take up managerial or IC set of responsibility interchangably or at the same time.

I never really started using the term extensively, but now I try to be more conscious and careful when I do. I hope you would do too :)