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TEAMING: Why Teams Fail to Function Effectively

deb stairs 2v2There have been many articles and books written on why teams fail, including the very popular Five Dysfunctions of Teams.  For this blog, I’d like to go off the beaten path a bit and look at some of the less discussed reasons why teams fail – the other six dysfunctions of teams.

1. Wanting team-based results without constructing a team-based structure.  What does a team-based structure look like?  There is a gelling that happens when teams define their own goals and approach, pitch in to share roles and responsibilities, commit to core values and beliefs that reinforce the importance of every member, and demonstrate a willingness to hold each other accountable for results.   Putting people together in a room with an over-functioning leader who does all the work and makes all the decisions does not make a group a team (check out the Team Start-Up Guide and the Team Assessment Tool).

2. Overestimating the importance of the task focus and under-estimating process and relationship.  In any team functioning, there are actually three things going on:  task/content, processes and relationships.  When project teams or cross-functional teams are formed, the emphasis is too often put on getting the tasks done (the “what) and not enough attention is paid to the “how.”  As a consequence, the team never discusses how they’ll communicate, run their meetings, make decisions, solve problems, or assign responsibilities.  The process considerations only come to the forefront when the team is in trouble and the relationships are getting strained.

3. The culture doesn’t really encourage collaboration and cooperation.  Teaming is a bit like motherhood and apple pie. Who can be against something so fundamentally right?  Yet, there is a significant difference between talking about being a team and putting the work into making it happen.  Sometimes, people will ask us to come in and do a half-day workshop on teambuilding.  Exactly what can be accomplished in 3.5 hours that will significantly change behaviors that have existed and been tolerated in organizations for years?  To function effectively as a team requires a willingness to surrender the self for the good of the whole.  That type of culture doesn’t happen overnight.  It requires careful understanding of the core behaviors and beliefs associated with collaboration and cooperation and then holding people accountable for performing those behaviors (learn more about the Team Training Modules we provide).

4. Still believing in the “lone star” myth.  Despite the fact that we know the world is getting increasingly complicated and change is happening at the speed of light, we persist in believing we can do it better ourselves.  Perhaps it’s in our DNA to want to ride in on a white horse and save the day.  Teams struggle when people are unable to let go and let the team do it.  Or worse still, those who encourage the team to tackle a task or project and then go against the team’s decision at the end (read the article Accountability: An ‘I’ Experience – 5 Ways Teams Can Build Strong Accountability).

5. Neglecting the talent pool that resides in a team.  When we ask people in training if they feel that their organization taps into all their skills and experiences, no one raises his or her hand.  So much knowledge is getting left on the table.  Without a process for scanning the skills existing in the team, too many members simply show up to meetings and contribute only when solicited.  They bring a functional mentality that limits contribution to those things that closely align with their job description.  We have yet to figure out in organizations how to extract the sum total of talent on a team.  Sometimes I’ll have people write their titles on index cards and then take them away.  When I ask what’s left among the group, they will note that the brain power is still present.  “Taking away the titles” is one way to break the barriers that keep us from freely displaying our capabilities (take a look at our Skill Scan template).

6. Insufficient training prior to launching the team’s work.  Start-up teams need to be trained in the definition of a team, the behaviors associated with high performance teams, how to structure the team’s meetings and processes, how to resolve conflicts and personality differences, when and how to use consensus, and how to share roles and responsibilities.  The list goes on and on.  Our modern culture does not teach these competencies as a matter of course.  As a consequence, when a team experiences the first member who is bossy or doesn’t pull his/her weight, no one knows what to do, other than talking behind the person’s back or acting out in passive-aggressive behaviors.  To start the team off well, it needs about sixteen hours of training prior to launch (take a look at some free samples to get you moving in the right direction). 

Well-functioning, high performance teams are magical.  Their egos are in check, their talents are freely contributed, and they’re willing to play by the rules.  It can be done, but it takes commitment and hard work. 

team playerI welcome you to our May is Teaming Month at New Directions and invite you to comment on your own experience with teams and submit your name for our raffle. If your interested in discussing how to implement high-performance teaming within your organization I encourage you to contact me.





Deborah is the author of three books on teams, including the most recent Team Building Tool Kit, Second Edition published by AMACOM in 2007. 


May is our Team-Building Month. Good Content. Expert Advice. Raffles and Prizes. Join Us: 



If you liked this, you may want to read these:

•             Creating and Sustaining Senior Leadership Teams

•             Implement Teams…Sooner or Later? 


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