Strategy Season: Addressing Team Dysfunction
Over the next few months, teams and leaders will get away from their offices to take some time to think about their business plans for the year ahead. Some will even do multiple years of planning. For a lot of leaders, their greatest worry is the SWOTs, financials, OKRs, KPIs, etc… But they also often worry, “Do I have the team that will take us where we need to go?”
I’ve encountered many leaders over the years who are content with their team’s results, but can’t help thinking things could be better. Often, they describe being in meetings, there’s some good back and forth, but people are pretty compliant. A few share ideas and opinions, they talk a lot, but the leader never hears from everyone. It causes leaders to wonder, “Who is really with me?” Because, believe it or not, a team that doesn’t disagree from time to time may not be really working together.
Teams that trust one another can disagree without taking it personally. They can share critical feedback because they know it’s coming from a good place. They aren’t afraid to share opinions and they don’t do it behind each other’s backs.
When it comes to developing a team that pushes the strategy, leads with intention, and communicates openly, there are always going to be obstacles. The most prominent being the team itself. Strategies alone don’t get results, people do. So having a great team is critical.
I’ve found there are some team members who exist in just about every organization I’ve worked with over the years. They aren’t limited to any one industry, title, or region. Maybe some of the characters below have made an appearance or two at one of your strategy meetings?
The Cast of Characters
Halfway Gone Teammate a.k.a. the “The Hokey Pokey”
You may have met this team member before. This contributor has one leg out and one leg in the door. And, truthfully, they want to be left alone. They’re the ones saying, “Hey, I’ll just do my own thing. I’ll get my work done, just leave me alone. This team stuff, these trust falls, that’s for other people.”
Unfortunately, there are those teammates who make it very clear they don’t like anyone else on the team. Likely, the feeling is mutual. They vent to their friends and family constantly, saying things like, “I can’t stand these people.” And, no matter how hard you try, it’s horribly difficult to connect with them because they aren’t interested in working together or even getting to know you or others on the team.
Lunch/Happy Hour Crew
Then you have what I call the lunch buddies or the happy hour crew. Typically made up of three or more team members, this group shares a lot of very honest feedback about how the team’s performing with each other. Unfortunately, they don’t talk as openly and candidly with the rest of the team. They tend to sit back and hope the manager will deal with the problems. So, when it comes to the team coming together, these three are silent.
This group of team members is particularly dangerous. They get together like the Lunch Crew but instead of talking about what is and isn’t working together, they collectively agree there’s no point to the team even attempting to come together. They may be making plans to leave, interview for other jobs, or start their own company to get away from the team and the organization as a whole. It doesn’t take long until they are all negative and disengaged, becoming toxic to the team.
Then there’s the jaded team member, who’s tried (and they really did try before) but things didn’t work out. Maybe they were shut down from a fellow team member or the leader. Now, they have no reason to believe their opinion would make any difference. In their minds, the “boss” is going to do what they want anyways, so why bother? When asked, they will share what’s currently working and what’s not working, but they shut down when asked for input on forward-looking direction, strategy, or goal setting.
Lastly, this team member is bought in, performs well and is on-board with the teams purpose. As leader you feel safe and comfortable talking candidly with them about the team’s performance and issues. This can be helpful and refreshing to a leader. But beware, this team member can generate some unintended frictions within the team. First, others may perceive you to have a “favorite” and or a team within the team. Secondly, there can be a temptation as leader to rely too much on the “easier road”, a road that doesn’t have conflict, but has unfiltered conversation and a non-threating environment. The harder road is to replicate this with rest of the team. Living in this state for an extended amount time can create deep mistrust and a lack of vulnerability amongst the team members.
So, Now what?
Maybe some of those characters seem familiar to you. Perhaps there’s a couple on your team. The point is, you have all these dynamics happening and, as the leader, your primary responsibility is to facilitate results and to do that you need to bring these people together. For the many, the ideal picture painted is what you read in countless teamwork and leadership books: “We’re all going to row in the same direction.” “We’re going to sing on the mountaintop together with linked arms and purpose.”
It’s a nice idea but you can’t buy a great team off Amazon. Building a team that works together and achieves business goals takes a lot of hard work. And, it starts with trust.
Bottom line, dysfunctional teams don’t get the results they aspire to achieve. And if they get lucky and get the results this time, I guarantee you next time, many of the team members will be looking for a new team to join—probably at a new company. So here’s the opportunity:
As leaders we move from “oh well, this is the team I have” to “____________ is the kind team I want, what can I start doing today to make it a reality?”
If you would like to know more about how you can become a leader who knows how to build a team that’s functioning and cohesive, ADVISA would like to help. Especially now, so you can come together as a team before you head off and work on your next business strategy.
Ready to dig into Strategy Season? We think you’ll enjoy this read from Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett on making a people strategy part of your business strategy.
And, don’t miss “Re-boarding Your Employees” by ADVISA’s President, Heather Haas.