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Q. I've got a team of people who just aren't working well together. I have no idea how to figure out why they're not performing or what to do to fix it. Where do I begin?
Felix: This is a common issue at many organizations - teams often fail to live up to their potential for a number of reasons. Here are some things you should try.
First, make sure the team is actually a team. Sounds obvious? Maybe not. Not all "teams" are created equal. For our purposes, let's break them down into two categories:
- Teams - A true team consists of a number of people working together to achieve a common objective, where the success of each person is completely dependent on the success of the team. For example, a baseball team either wins or loses as a team. Even if the pitcher throws his best game ever, he will still lose if the team loses. In the business world, high performance teams are interdependent - even if the production manager consistently builds the best quality widgets, on time and under budget, she will ultimately succeed only if the sales manager manages to sell all of them at a profitable price and if the finance manager succeeds in securing the necessary capital to keep the inventory flowing and the equipment maintained. No member of team can succeed if the team fails.
- Work Groups - A work group consists of a number of people who often work in the same place, at the same time for the same company and boss - but who are not necessarily all working towards the same goals. Just like the "team" above, this is a valid work structure that exists in many organizations. For example, a group of HR consultants working for the same the HR Director in a major corporation may be a work group. Each consultant has his or her own client group, own projects, and priorities linked to the needs of the client group. The Director's role is to ensure that consultants have the common resources they need to meet each client groups demands and that they broadly comply with corporate policies and achieve corporate standards. But, while one consultant may fail miserably to meet his client's expectations, another may succeed beyond the expectations of her client group. While one is getting a bonus for outstanding performance, another may be struggling to get by.
If your team is truly a team, then we would expect it to have a common objective that can be achieved only through the combined contribution of each team member. In high performance teams, this is so and each team member can articulate the same team goal(s) and explain exactly how his or her role contributes to the success of the team, and how what he/she does is dependent on the performance of other team members. Working with your team to ensure that everyone understands the common goals and how he/she contributes to and is dependent upon the success of others is key to being able to improve team performance.
If your team is actually a work group, then that should just change your expectations of how it behaves, and how members interact.
Once team members understand their common mission and their individual roles in achieving success, it's necessary to ensure that there is an atmosphere of trust and collaboration within the team. There are many ways to approach this. One method we find works extremely well is to help each team member understand his/her own behaviour, strengths and weaknesses, and how these can help or hinder cooperation and inter-personal performance. We then overlay the different behavioural profiles of each team member in a group setting and look for/discuss areas of common strengths, common gaps and areas where personal styles and natural tendencies may promote conflict. We use a leading tool called Facet5™ and its associated team-development module called Teamscape™ to do this with enormous success. Inevitably, participants report it as a universally positive and motivating experience.
The next stage is to look for ways to capitalize on this awareness by adjusting team structures and processes so that the team is able to draw on the individual and collective strengths of each team member - and avoid being drawn down by individual and collective weaknesses.
The team can then create and put in place agreed processes for objective setting and dispute resolution, set individual and collective targets and hold each other accountable for their contributions.