Why Some Teams Fail And Others Prevail

There’s a shift in organizational structure taking place today—a greater shift toward decentralization and the promotion of self-organization (holacracy). Now, while this stage of organizational development is as advanced as it ever has been, it’s not as developed as it ever will be.

What will ensue in 2016? That remains to be seen. But, what we can do is surmise that improving how people work together will pay dividends in both employee morale and financial performance—two key ingredients to organizational fitness. After all, teams of people are what drive results in companies, not the lone Rambos (which happens to be one of my favorite movies by the way, but that’s another story) that try to tackle everything—and everybody.

So why do some teams fail while others prevail? Moreover, how can you optimize your team to work in uncertainty and still come out on top? Consider the following criteria that defines effective teams against the dynamics of your own team TISI +%, and if there are discrepancies, ask yourself why.

Here are three reasons why some teams fail (not an all inclusive list):

Image credit: Drew Streib on Flickr
Image credit: Drew Streib on Flickr

 Opportunities to build trust are passed by.

The main reason teams fail is due to a lack of trust, and trust can be broken down into two components: character and competence. In other words, is it safe to trust the person to A) be competent in his or her job, and B) to have positive intent and good will in doing so? If the answer is yes to both, then trust grows; if not, trust stymies. The means by which we accumulate such insight is through interaction (and no, I’m not talking about ropes courses or trust falls).

Think about it this way. Do you implicitly trust someone whom you’ve never met, even if that person comes with a strong reputation? Chances are you take that person’s reputation into account as to where on the trust spectrum you begin, but you likely look for behavioral validation to confirm. This is normal, as different people have different definitions of what trust looks like.

Here’s the bottom line. If you want to build trust in the workplace and within your team you need to interact together as much as possible.  Schedule work breaks at the same time. Cohabitate in Airbnbs rather than in separate hotel rooms. Eat at the same table. Look for every opportunity to spend time together because then—and only then—will you get to know each other, and the more you know each other, the more trust is built.

Incentives favor individuals over the team.

Consider a sales team for a moment. Sales teams are a confusing mix of motivations because they’re a collective group of individuals who (technically) comprise a sales team but are rewarded off individual merit. So, what happens is you get that snaky sales rep who makes calls behind others’ backs attempting to steal clients because, at the end of the day, more sales equals more money—for him or her. Unfortunately, this individualized incentive does nothing to further the cohesion of the team (i.e. trust, accountability, commitment, chemistry). Rather, it works in direct contrast to optimizing the team’s potential. What if you have a bad fish, you ask? That’s on the team leader to either A) “fix” that person or B) get rid of him/her. It’s that easy.

There’s no open discussion about team dynamics.

Just as in any relationship, gripes, complaints, praises and predictions should be shared. Members need to openly communicate everything—good and bad—if trust is to prosper. In my recently published book, I shared how in second phase of BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Training) we called forth individuals to the front of the classroom and discussed strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations for improvement. We did this in front of everyone, and the result was a newly gelled BUD/S class.

Discussing team dynamics also creates a shared awareness about each other’s motivations, competencies, and work progress that mitigates backchannel email follow ups as well as the propensity for individual interpretation. Challenges arise when Johnny interprets his boss’s guidance different than what his colleague, Sally, gleaned. So what happens? Johnny and Sally enter into conflict because the boss isn’t in the picture to deconflict.

Team dynamics are a formidable force and no easier to deal with than family dynamics. The best way to relieve tension is to let the “bad air” escape, which only happens through consistent dialogue.

This article was first published on Forbes Magazine


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