When teams fail

Words of Wilson will teach you each month to better understand, develop and manage your most valuable resource – your people.

© malerapaso | iStockphoto

In my consulting practice, I participate in strategic planning sessions where ‘team building’ is listed as something to attain. Yet, for all the research that suggests the positive influence high-performing teams have on productivity, I find that implementation of ongoing “team building” efforts often fall short.

As with team effectiveness in sports, developing a high-functioning work team is an essential part of a winning culture; critically important to win business, and create and sustain value over time.

From my perspective, teams that excel together exhibit several factors: they are flexible and keep pace with change; they display empathy towards one another; they share a similar vision and purpose and they are working towards the same goal. More importantly, they are built and supported by a great underlying work culture. When the work culture has cracks in it, it’s inevitable that the teams do too.

Finding crisis points are easy if you know what to look for:

  • Negative energy: Individuals are brought onto the team who are not aligned on values or have harmful behaviors. The sin is not a bad hire; the sin is doing nothing about it and allowing bad interpersonal chemistry to jeopardize collaboration.
  • Competing interests: Compromising values or vision causes a loss of trust and eventual breakdown of commitment to the overall vision, which brought the team together in the first place.
  • Lack of recognition: Even the best teams need to know when they’re contributing. Teams and individuals need feedback, recognition and reinforcement to experience increased engagement and work satisfaction.
  • Finger-pointing: Nothing hurts teamwork more than allowing blame to bleed into the culture. When blame creeps in, a decline in honesty, broken trust and an increase in defensiveness come with it.
  • Ambiguity: Inconsistent communication, no overriding mission, no ‘brass ring’ that gives employees something to grab onto and care about. Indifference is the point at which good people leave.

These steps can begin to fix what’s broken:

  • Make teamwork one of your core company values. Empower people in your organization to elevate their game, set their direction, innovate, trouble-shoot problems and manage their own decisions. Give them latitude and responsibility.
  • Make teams fluid. Get rid of silos and departments to encourage collaboration and allow great work to happen when people come together informally around shared goals.
  • Provide support and training. Give employees the opportunity to learn what other people in your organization do so they become able to think and solve problems holistically, rather than from the perspective of their own role. Invest in training events and activities where they can learn as groups and build trust in one another.
  • Assign goals. Give teams important assignments that can make a difference. Invite people to come together to solve problems, research opportunities and bring a fresh perspective to old approaches. Encourage teams to think creatively and hold them accountable to their commitments.
  • Encourage competition. Healthy competition can be good for an organization. If your leaders have goals that are aligned, measuring employees and teams against goals creates an atmosphere of friendly competition where everyone can meet and exceed their personal best.
  • Eliminate red tape. Give your work teams freedom from an excess of rules. Encourage a sense of ownership by building flexibility into your systems and let employees self-schedule and address problems when they are small.
  • Reward sweat equity. Make sure your people see the professional and personal benefits that come with being part of a high-functioning team and its role in driving and influencing your company’s success.

When teams come together, everyone wins – you, your company and your customers.

Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.

May 2018
Explore the May 2018 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.