The whole idea of teamwork is that, by working together, a group is more than the sum of its parts. If six people working individually could produce more than six people working together then why form the team at all?

But talk to anyone who has spent much time working in real-life teams and you'll soon learn than this promised synergy frequently fails to materialize. People bicker, they slack, they jockey for position, and it turns out two heads are really not better than one.

How do you avoid these common problems that can sap the productivity of teams? The trio of authors behind the book Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance recently tackled this question in an article for Quartz, outlining the most common ways teams fail to live up to their promise, and offering a prescription for each problem. Here is a short summary of each problem they outline. Check out the complete piece for more details.

1. Overly abstract goals

If you've got the rhetorical gifts of Steve Jobs, you might be able to motivate your people by selling them a lofty vision of world-altering change. But for most teams, abstract goals alone are simply not that energizing. "If employees don't understand how working toward the company's vision will benefit them personally, it can be hard for them to commit," write the authors. The solution isn't to jettison big goals, but to make sure your team understands how they align with their personal aims.

2. Unclear roles

Having the most talented team in the world won't be worth much if someone doesn't coach everyone on their roles. "Research has shown that you need clear structure and well-defined interdependent roles in order to best leverage the strengths of those on your team," claim the authors, so make sure you spend some time at the beginning of your collaboration spelling out who is doing what.

3. Too many rules

You might need some structure to get the most out of your talent, but you don't want to overburden them with rigid rules. Forget trying to cover every contingency, and instead "make and implement only a few big rules that will have a big impact on your business." According to the authors, "these typically relate to how you will share information, make decisions and resolve conflicts."

4. No time for reflection

Is your team meeting its goals? Great, but you still should make space to reflect on what you could do better anyway. "Too often, companies limit time for formal reflection to annual retreats and quarterly reviews. In reality, reflection needs to be taking place with much more frequency," write the authors, who say even a weekly stand-up meeting for this purpose will do.

5. No buy-in

If you're the boss of your team, so you can simply dictate its aims. But if you want to get the best out of your people, you won't do that. Instead, you'll "work hard to get the rest of your team to buy into a new idea so that you have their collective support," suggests the article.

What are the most common mistakes that sink teams in your experience?

Published on: Mar 25, 2016
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