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Team Working --- or Not?

Tips to Help You Build a Better Team

Nearly all of us have a need to work as part of a team with others, whether it’s in the workplace, on a committee, in sporting pastimes or even as a family. Especially on Nantucket, where there are so many small businesses, not for profits, and charitable boards.

There is lots of good material out there on team building and improving team performance – it’s a popular subject! However, I thought I’d approach this from the opposite way – by providing some advice instead on providing a warning on some of the most common pitfalls that trip teams up, develop disharmony and act as a barrier to success for everyone involved. Call it a ‘how not to do it masterclass.

1)         Failing to see the wood for the trees: A lot of teams can get so entrenched in the detail that they lose sight of the overall strategic vision. This is a recipe for a project which is a very well-thought out and pretty-looking failure. It’s important never to lose sight of what the overall goal is, whether it’s a short-term project or the long-term corporate goal of the organization. Never forget why you’re there and what you’re doing.

2)         Focusing on personal agendas. When individual team members are more interested in their own personal agendas and ulterior motives, often the satisfaction of their own personal needs will come at the expense of the team’s ultimate strategic goal, which can lead to failure. If a team allows individuals to exercise their personal power for its own sake, then it will damage the team hierarchy and weaken its purpose.

3)         Not exercising trust. A team without trust is a team without direction. It’s like taking the wheels of your car – no amount of gas, driving skills or goodwill is going to get it to go anywhere! If members of the team are suspicious of each other’s motivation and are reluctant to be vulnerable and show their real selves to their colleagues, t6hen you may as well pack up and go home now, as (like the car without wheels) you aren’t likely to see any progress.

4)         Abdicating responsibility and playing the ‘it’s not my fault’ game. If you want to make sure that your team gets nowhere fast, then develop a situation where everyone blames everyone and anyone else for anything that goes wrong. If no-one is prepared to take responsibility, then nothing gets done.  It’s easy to sit back and point fingers, but it doesn’t do anything constructive While that’s happening, nothing gets done towards the strategic goal, and an atmosphere full of conflict and mutual defensiveness in the team. It will soon erode any existing trust and drag the team even further from its primary objective.

5)         Ducking out of potential conflict. No-one likes bringing up controversial issues, but sometimes they need to be aired and tackled. When members of a team go out of their way to avoid bringing up difficult subjects, or avoid considering alternative ideas purely because they don’t match up to the ideas of other group members, then the team has no way of functioning to its full potential. The reason people don’t discuss controversial subjects in teams is fear. Fear prevents teams from moving forward. It will prevent your team operating at its best and achieving its goals if you allow it to.

Having explained the most common pitfalls for team-working, there is the flip-side – characteristics which are part of strong, productive and effective teams. Here are just some of them:

1)         Commitment. Every team member has invested in the team’s success and is committed to reaching the end goal. In this team environment, team members volunteer for tasks, and are committed to completing them on time and to the required standard. In such a team, each person takes personal responsibility for their own actions and is more interested in solving problems than blaming others.

2)         Honest Communication. Effective teams communicate openly and are not afraid of controversial subjects where they are needed to get the best out of a project. They are open to exploring of any and all ideas, and aren’t tied to what one or two people think or how it’s always been done. Effective teams regularly brainstorm new ideas together, and undertake ongoing professional dialogue to examine the positive and negative merits of suggestions. Comments are not taken personally, and constructive criticism is taken in the spirit in which it was meant.

3)         Trust Based on Vulnerability. When each member of the team has sufficient confidence in the intentions of their team mates, they allow themselves to be vulnerable. Instead of putting up defensive walls, they show people their true colors and allow themselves absolute honesty. When the full team has recognized that no-one is perfect, and mistakes will be made by everyone at some point, then people subconsciously relax, safe in the knowledge that they can take calculated risks for the good of the project, and can focus on doing the best thing for the project, not avoiding doing the wrong thing.

4)         Results-Oriented. Everyone on the team has their eyes firmly on the goal. They know what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. Everyone knows the plan and they know what their role is in achieving the project’s objectives. Everyone has high standards, which they expect from everyone. The strategic end-goal is always in their sights, and they have no room for ulterior motives or personal agendas.

Which does your team follow – the how to, or how not to do it list? Does your team have open discussions? Do people have their own agendas? Do your team members show vulnerability? Is everyone committed to the end result? Does each member take personal responsibility? Do they focus on the end goal? Are they caught up in minutiae?  Assess your team today, and then take action to get them working to their full potential.

Marsha D. Egan, CPCU, CSP, PCC, CPCU of The Egan Group, Inc. is a certified executive and success coach and member of the National Speakers’ Association. She can be reached at [email protected] For information on coaching or seminars