Recent research by Deloitte Consulting shows that organizations are moving from rigid hierarchies of individuals to ones based on teams of teams models. This change in structure has been a function of the change in the nature of work itself. As we've moved from simple routine tasks to to  solving complicated problems in creative ways, teams have allowed us to combine the experience, skills, insights, and capacities of several individuals. However, teams come with many challenges.

Certainly, this is what I've seen in my work as a coach. Over the last decade, I've worked with dozens of different kinds of teams: software teams, marketing teams, operational teams, and, most recently,  management and leadership teams. And while every team is unique and face different challenges, there are a handful of reasons that teams struggle and then potentially fail. By knowing these typical fault lines and staying vigilant to avoid these pitfalls, you can increase your odds of success and scope of your impact.

1. Lack of purpose

First and foremost, teams without a clear and well communicated definition of purpose will typically not align themselves for success. Not knowing why you're all working together or not having a clear definition of success results in most people pulling in different directions. Everyone one makes different assumptions and works off piecemeal information, drawing erratic conclusions on what needs to be done.

A great team clarifies its core customer, the product/service it provides to them, and how its customers use the product or service once it is delivered. This allows each member of the team to focus on making sure each and every part of their individual  processes and effort contributes to creating value for the team's customer.

2. Unclear roles

The only thing worse than not knowing what someone else is doing is not knowing what you're doing. When roles are unclear, it leaves people struggling to decide what to do and what to do next. Team members typically get stuck focusing on some small, locally-optimized task so they can feel productive, only to find out later they are wasting their time or duplicating their efforts.

Productive teams have clear role definitions and regular discussion regarding who's responsible for what and making sure there are no big overlaps or gaps between each person on the team. They develop role scorecards with key responsibilities, key performance indicators, and specific performance targets. Then they merge their individual scorecards to create a role matrix which ensures that there are no holes or duplicates and that handoffs are tightly coordinated.

3. Fixed mindset

I've seen many teams fail because they assumed they couldn't improve, change, or re-frame their situation. Often times, the smartest and most technical of teams are the ones that get stuck in this way. These teams' intelligence and prior success lull them into thinking that if they can't solve it quickly using their standard approach, then there is no solution.

The best teams I've worked with have a growth mindset. They are willing to try things that seem impossible at first and are willing to risk failure. They tend to learn more quickly, discover new information and approaches, and pick up new skills and techniques along the way.

4. Poor decision-making

Teams that haven't figured out a good approach to decision-making fail in two modes. First, they over-think decisions and waste a lot of time in the decision-making process. Sometimes they get so stuck that they can't even make a decision. The second mode is when they don't spend enough time making decisions and they get into implementation and thrash mode until they either give up or make it through but badly bruised and wounded.

Smart teams decide how they are going to decide in different cases. They understand the decision-making stages--input, consult, make, approve, inform--and have clearly decided who's involved in which stage. They put as few people in the middle phases as possible in order to streamline the process. Once in implementation mode, they can move quickly because the right people have been included in the right way.

5. Lack of resources

The one thing that will kill a team faster than anything is the lack of resources. Sometimes this is the team's fault, but more often it is the organization who chartered the team in the first place. Team morale and commitment wanes quickly when team members don't have the right tools, equipment, and authority to do their job. In most situations, companies are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to creating the right environment and workspace the teams need to be successful.

Teams that perform well are supported by the right sponsors and executives and these teams are given everything they need to work quickly and with purpose. Experienced managers know that on-the-ground needs and decisions are best left to the people doing the work and these managers should instead focus on removing obstacles, procuring right resources, and getting the information the team needs to do its job.

While avoiding all of these won't guarantee a stellar team, failing to avoid them will certainly mean your team will deliver subpar results.

Published on: Nov 20, 2017