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The Trouble with Teams

Today, the shift from individual to team in organizing work in the corporate landscape is done and dusted. However, the trouble with most teams is that they do not deliver what they can. In fact, at best they produce mediocre results and it’s most disconcerting to a lot of executives and managers.
No wonder the skeptical and cynical attitudes. When it comes to developing the capacity of management, leadership, cross-functional or project teams, selection and development of team members is focused primarily on having the right blend of knowledge and skill, with a consideration for personality and cultural fit.

Annual strategy sessions or team “kick-offs” may include some form of team building exercises or workshops that are designed to improve people’s ability to work together based on personality or behavioural dynamics in the team. While these events may be helpful, the general comments from team leaders is that, while fun and somewhat informative, these sessions do not produce lasting tangible change in performance of the team in any measurable way.
The overriding problem causing this in teams is what is referred to as the “as if” syndrome. That is, people “act” as if they are committed, being part of the team and will be doing what they said they will do, but they actually don’t. Consequently, the most prevailing challenges in teams are;

  • Team members do not communicate with each other and in fact still work in silos. The general characteristics of communication are reactive vs. proactive, defensive vs. trusting;
  • Conflict, competition, and politics shut down collaboration; It’s a case of either I’m Ok & You’re not Ok or, I’m not Ok & You’re Ok or, I’m not Ok & You’re not Ok.
  • The team generates great ideas and enthusiasm for goals but then nothing gains traction, execution falls apart. Assumption is rife and it’s a case of too little too late.
  • Teams engage in strategy sessions, collectively committing to objectives and ways to work together more collaboratively and effectively, and then go back to the office and, “it’s business as usual” . An absence of effective team leadership in the true sense of the word and no dedicated effort to coordinate teamwork in the team.
  • Targeted feedback with linked consequences as a result of measuring progress of achievement and level of team effectiveness does not happen. Not only should consequences be of a performance nature but also of a financial nature.

The devil is in the execution detail, proved to be clearly the weakest linked. Unless a team measures and examines how they collectively execute on goals, for getting things done and apply corrective action to improve their level of effectiveness, performance will remain disappointing and mediocre at best. Successful companies are started, grown, and made successful by a team of individuals. One person may come to be recognised as the “innovator”, but it takes a team of good people to make any enterprise work.

It is not the individual but the team that is the driver of sustained and long term success in management and business. A team can renew and regenerate itself with new recruits as individual team members leave or retire, and it can find within itself all those conflicting characteristics that cannot be converged in any single individual. It can build up a pool of shared and collectively-owned experience, knowledge, information and judgment that can be passed on as people join the team. The late Jeffrey Timmons said: “An individual makes a living; a team builds an organization”.