When Teams go Bad

If you have ever been part of a team, department, board, or church group, you may have been in the situation when the team was bad.  The result here may be infighting, incompetence, and inability to accomplish anything meaningful.  It is often quite painful to be a part of a dysfunctional team, especially when we realize how much we could accomplish but are unable to execute on.  I think it useful to find possible sources of what has spoiled the team when you are in this situation or when you want to avoid ever getting there. 

The first factor to consider is if the team members are all aligned toward the same common goals.  Years ago, I was part of a non-profit board which had almost as many goals as we had board members.  The only item that was accomplished was that of the strongest board member, and this was at the expense of all the other members.  Until we got together and figured out the direction of the organization, we accomplished nothing else. 

Alignment is also required in the large overall methods used to reach the goals.  My wife and I were part of a canoe race.  The first few minutes of the race actually had us rowing against each other!  We then began to move toward the goal in a large zig zag formation.  We lost the race, but if we had been in harmony on our method to reaching the goal, energy used to paddle against each other and in any path other than a straight line could have pushed us over the finish line.

Sometimes just the place where the group meets may be a deterrent to the team coherency.  One department team I was part of had weekly meetings every Monday morning.  We sat around the table and did deal with the critical issues of the week.  But no large, strategic goals were ever discussed there.  We met around dinner tables and on couches at coffee houses when we discussed the large issues that set the framework of the organization for years to come.  Had we stayed in the board room and not been in a relaxed environment to develop relationships where we felt comfortable sharing any idea, we would have never grown.  If your board is stuck in neutral, consider a change of scenery.

The next spoiler of team is the tendency to ignore relationships and concentrate only on the task.  But you can’t presume that people who share the same mission would naturally get along.  Relationships must be fostered instead of just assuming the work will bring people together.  Unity does not come from a shared mission; it comes from deepening relational connections.  What are you doing to bring the team together?

Sometimes, a problem with the team is not meeting enough.  Now I am not a huge fan of meetings, especially those which are without food!  But if you are meeting so rarely and whenever you meet large decisions must be made immediately, you may find the team stalled in neutral and people feeling pressured to make decisions without having time to think and talk through them.  A solution may be to add another meeting to discuss issues and advance any solution without making any decisions.  This, more relaxed meeting, will help strengthen relationships and advance great ideas that would not have been shared in a typical stressed meeting. 

Turnover is another struggle to trip up teams.  Turnover requires balance.  If you have too much turnover on your board, you spend a lot of time rehashing the organization history and bringing the newbies up to speed on where the group has come from and where we are going.  If you do not have any new members on your board, you run the risk that no new ideas will ever come into the group which could make a huge impact on the company.

Complexity can be a challenge for team success.  More people on the team mean more possibilities, ideas, and work capacity.  But this also means challenges among the relationships as more numbers of people are involved.  Consider if you have two members on a team, you have two lines of communication between person one and the person two.  When the next person is added, now you have six lines of communication among the three people.  Add a fourth person, you now have 12 lines of communication.  If you have five people, like our group, 20 lines of communication are in place.  If your group grows to 20, you have 380 lines of communication among one individual to another individual. 

Great teams are made up of strong relationships among the team members.  Huge accomplishments are made by strong teams.  If you want your team to win and avoid going bad, this requires cultivation and commitment toward developing the relationships among individuals in the group with each other.  If your team has turned bad, perhaps some of these items may point to source issues which need to be corrected.