• Chris Davies

10 signs your team is not set up for success

Successful teams are essential for organisational success. No significant outcome is achieved by one person alone these days. All change efforts involve groups of people, sometimes large groups. And these groups need to function as a cohesive unit - a team - for it to be fully successful.

Teams who fail to operate at their best are literally costing the company money in lost productivity and missed opportunities.

Like any relationship system, a team takes work from everyone involved. Below, I list ten signs that your team needs work. How many of them do you recognise?

1. “Taking it offline”

I am not talking here about someone simply keeping a meeting focussed on its objectives; that is very good practice. I am referring to situations when something arises that needs to be discussed and resolved, and requires the team to resolve it, but someone suggests "taking it offline" simply to avoid talking about it. Do you recognise this?

It most often happens because it has been raised before, and resulted in an argument that failed to resolve the issue. And we don't like getting into arguments, do we? Especially arguments we have already had before.

The issue, though, won't just go away, and the team need tools to help them deal with challenging topics and make hard decisions.

2. Struggling to incorporate change

It is a fallacy that people don't like change; they don't like to be changed, but they are happy to be involved in important change - it's motivating.

But when teams are broken up, when people's roles are changed, when disruptive new challenges are presented, people can sometimes struggle to take such change in their stride and continue to perform at their best.

Sometimes, people need to be able to take a breath, anchor themselves to their purpose and take a fresh look at their new reality.

3. Democratic decision-making

It is no longer the case that we rely on managers to make all the decisions for us. We hire smart people and we expect them to make smart decisions.

But people rarely make decisions alone. Most decisions affect those we work with - our teammates, colleagues, peers, stakeholders and customers. And while more and more teams have the autonomy to make decisions that impact them, some struggle to make collective decisions. In trying to be democratic, we try to involve others in the decision-making but more often than not, a simple majority vote is no way to make important decisions.

For really important decisions, everyone's buy-in is essential. meaning that everyone must agree to go along with the decision without resentment that their preferred option wasn't chosen. And without being pressured into going along with it.

4. The annoying colleague

Have you ever worked with someone who annoyed you? Perhaps it was the way they worked, or the way they spoke to you, but when someone annoys you, it takes away some of the joy of work, makes getting up on a Monday morning just that little bit harder.

But all too often, we are unable to deal with it. We don't want to start an argument, or make the situation even more tense by bringing it out into the open. So we don't talk about it,

instead resorting to resigned acceptance of the situation and trying to minimise the impact. This inevitably reduces your happiness, your effectiveness and performance.

But we do need to talk about it. And there are ways to deal with it that bring people closer together instead of creating conflict.

5. The invisible influencer

Over time team culture changes. As people come and go, the work changes and processes and practices change, so does culture - "the way things are done around here". But sometimes an aspect of team culture lingers on without you really understanding why. Is it just because that's the way it's always been, or is there some residual loyalty to an ex-colleague whose inspirational impact has been retained even after she left?

Sometimes we hang on to habits and behaviours adopted under the leadership or influence of someone who has since left. Once those people have gone, the team needs to re-assess their agreements - do those old habits need to continue, or should they be dropped in favour of something more appropriate to the new team configuration?

6. Losing their way

It is not often that teams stay together for long periods of time, but when they do, they risk stagnating or losing their way, caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of routine and habit, solving problems and getting through the day.

People can very easily lose their motivation when this happens. Purpose is one of the key aspects to motivation, and so is growth. If we are not growing and learning, we stagnate. And when we stagnate, it is easy to start looking elsewhere for new challenges.

But it isn't too difficult to bring a team back to their purpose, to why they exist at all, and to why they are a vital part of the organisation, to remind them of their "original myth" and appreciate once again who they are and what each person brings.

7. Toxic Communication

John Gottman called them the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" and they are the four toxic styles of communication that can destroy any relationship, personal or business. They are:

  • Blaming. We all recognise this one - criticising the person instead of the behaviour. "You never get that right, you're hopeless. It's all your fault".

  • Contempt. This is being mean to people, ridiculing them, mocking them, etc. In couples, contempt is the single biggest predictor of divorce; think about what it would do to your team if left untreated.

  • Defensiveness. A common response to criticism, this is not just making excuses, it is often reverse blaming or deflecting blame onto others.

  • Stonewalling. The tuning out, the disengagement or turning away that stops the contempt, but doesn't solve the problem.

Fortunately, each of these has proven antidotes and a facilitated team workshop can be a perfect way to surface these unhelpful behaviours, apply the antidotes and obtain new team agreements on holding each other accountable.

8. Factions

Are there sub-teams within your team? A group within the larger entity that sees itself as somehow 'special' or better than the rest of the team? Especially within true cross-functional teams, we can't afford any subversive factions creating conflict with the team. This can be a response to poor decision-making that led to resentment among a minority, who feel undermined and threatened, and get together to undermine or even sabotage the majority.

Voicing these minority opinions is essential to team harmony, especially when they are strongly-held views. Once the factions have been identified and the different views openly expressed, tools for democratic decision-making are also helpful here.

9. Ineffective meetings and events

For the majority of the day, we often work alone, concentrating on our own unique tasks, pausing sometimes to collaborate with others or discuss issues. And every now and then, team members gather together for a meeting or event.

How effective are your meetings and events?

This, I find, is a key signifier of team health and effectiveness. If meetings start and end on time and achieve their stated objective, then the team is probably performing well. If meetings and events are a chore, boring or full of waffle, they are often a symptom of an underlying problem. Sometimes this is individual competence and leadership, but occasionally it indicates a level of unspoken dissatisfaction within the team.

10. Negativity

Is your team mired in negativity, always looking at what’s wrong but not always resolving the problems? If so, I am willing to bet that one or more of those four horsemen we talked about in point 7 above is roaming among the team too.

The health and effectiveness of a team is tested most in hard times, when the deadlines are too close, the pressure is relentless and the challenge seems impossible. That is when the team desperately need to look at the positives. Positivity is essential to the health of any relationship system, ideally in a ratio of 5:1. For every negative comment, we need 5 positive ones to balance it out.

Take the time to look at what has been achieved already, the ways in which the team are learning and improving, and how to leverage those strengths to achieve your goals.

If any of these traits ring a bell, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your stories.

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