Here are three things that get in the way of building strong teams, along with suggested solutions.
Despite the best team building efforts, many organizations are still operating on low power when it comes to producing desired results. They’ve invested time and dollars in events that supposedly help team members bond and function coherently, yet results are short term at best.
So what’s the problem? Every situation is unique, but here are a few possibilities:
Some or all members don’t want to function as a team. They’ve become accustomed to operating independently and don’t see the value of operating as a whole.
Team building isn’t linked to business results. Instead the team experienced artificial feel good exercises. Although the team has learned about each other’s behavioral styles, motivational profiles, individual strengths, etc., they have failed to connect their efforts to desired business outcomes.
There’s no follow-up beyond a one-time event. A successful team building process should be approached strategically, not as a one-time event hoping for the best. It should result in actionable ideas to help the team and organization achieve their goals. Continued learning, action and reinforcement are critical.
Of all of the potential issues that can negatively affect teambuilding, here are some of the most common impediments to team success in my experience and ways to overcome them.
Team Building Impediment #1: Fuzzy focus.
In this situation, the team doesn’t really know how to function. Either the team has lost focus on results or members have never been clear of their goals in the first place. Instead, they’ve become too internally fixated on other team members — judging what they’re doing, making assumptions, speculating, back stabbing, finger pointing, etc. Without a clear focus, team members frequently react to events in their immediate environment. They become distracted by other team members or simply respond to whatever issue lands in their lap. There’s no strategic team focus or energy to move forward.
Suggestion: As the leader, you must step in and clarify big picture goals and expectations. In order to do complete this task effectively, you must communicate the goals in a number ways that appeal to a variety of team members. Some may need a visual representation (e.g., a roadmap); others may need to know the “why” behind the goals to buy in. Check for clarity. Ask the team to articulate their understanding of the overall goals in their own words. Then clarify or correct as needed.
Team Building Impediment #2: Lack of leadership.
Leadership is critical to help the team succeed. Without it, team members will resort to their own methods. Some will run as far and fast as they can to prove themselves, pushing boundaries and taking on too much risk. Others will sit idle for as long as they can, performing as little as possible, yet complaining about how much work needs to get done. Some leaders are too busy concentrating on their own political or career agenda. Other leaders just don’t understand their role or possess good leadership skills.
Suggestion: Conduct regular strategic focus sessions. Strong leaders will help the team focus on the goal (the what) and key strategies (the how). Hold consistent informal one-on-one development meetings with direct reports to gain feedback, uncover trouble spots and leverage opportunities. If you need to build leadership skills yourself, make that a priority. If you value your career, find a coach or mentor to help you. Remember, in order to develop others – you must first develop yourself.
Team Building Impediment #3: Stuck in sameness.
The team is stuck in practices that may have been established years ago. They’ve gotten lazy or stopped trying new approaches. New team members may be frustrated by the apparent lack of openness to new ideas or ways of operating. Experienced team members defend the way things have always been done.
Suggestion: Identify one aspect of the team that you would be excited to see change come about. Talk with your team to make sure everyone agrees it would be worth it to affect change in that area. Determine what the best possible outcome could be if the team made the change, adopted a new procedure, tried a new approach or do whatever it is you’re suggesting. Then call for ideas from the team on how to make it happen. Generating excitement about new possibilities makes it easier for the team to get unstuck.
The most effective teams can maintain best practices while adapting to new environments or organizational changes. They are not content with sameness or status quo. Their best practices include constantly seeking new and better ways to perform their job. They are not content with going through the motions or frivolous exercises that may help increase awareness, but stop there.
It doesn’t matter if Bob is a blue, green or yellow if he can’t connect his self-awareness to results. The same applies at the team level. Team members may find it interesting to learn more about team members, but be sure to help translate learning into results.
Great team leaders spend time clarifying goals, cultivating their own leadership skills and identifying new ways to achieve great results. Not to be confused with micromanaging, an effective leader will check in from time to time to make sure the organization’s goals and strategies remain clear. At the same time, they help build capability of individual team members versus taking on the work of the team themselves.
Simply opening productive and constructive communication to a greater degree will help leaders increase their effectiveness and their teams function most effectively. Leaders often feel unnecessary pressure to tell everyone on the team what to do. Focus on influencing versus doing.
Team building is a means to an end, not an end in itself. What do you want your team to achieve?
Gayle Lantz, founder of WorkMatters(tm), is an organizational development consultant and executive coach. She has been consulting and coaching independently since 1998. Her clients include organizations such as NASA, Southern Company, MassMutual Financial Group and Compass Bank. Visit Gayle’s web site and sign up for her free newsletter at.