Your big event is right around the corner, your whole team is stressed and working long hours. It is crucial that this event go well, but there’s a problem – the constant conflict among your team members is leading to regular communication breakdowns, and instead of feeling like everyone is working toward the same goal it often feels as though people are working against each other.
Unfortunately, too many of us have been a part of this kind of team at some point in our careers. I don’t know about you, but speaking from my own experience, I find it demoralizing! It is easy to recognize when your team isn’t working – you can feel it all around you. What is more difficult is knowing what to do about it.
So, what do you do when your team isn’t working? First, it is important to know that the lack of teamwork is not the problem, but rather a symptom of the problem.
Here are a few things that in my experience are the biggest contributors to a dysfunctional team:
1. Unclear expectations – When your team members aren’t each clear about what is expected of them it can be confusing. If they don’t understand how their duties fit with those of the rest of the team and how this will help achieve the intended outcome, they are less likely to work collaboratively with others. If you are planning your next big event, assure there is clear communication of the event goals to all individuals on your team, and a conversation around how their work is crucial to the success of the whole team, and therefore the event.
2. Fear – This is a big one! Perhaps you have unwittingly created an environment where your team is constantly afraid of failing. When people are afraid that there are consequences tied to their employment if things don’t go right, it creates an “every person for themselves” mentality. No one wants to be the example of why a project failed, so they begin to focus the bulk of their time and attention on their own work and not how it fits with the rest of the team. They lack confidence that others will do their share, because of their fear of being let down. In this environment, team members often begin the practice of pointing out other’s failures as opposed to taking responsibility as a team.
A couple of strategies for addressing this issue would be to first foster a sense of exploration within your organization. Let employees know that not all “failures” are bad and treat those failures as learning opportunities. In addition, stay away from lots of recognition and rewards for individuals, and instead reward and recognize teams. This way it is clear that teamwork is an organizational value.
3. Tolerating bad behavior – This might seem obvious, but in my experience, this happens at a lot of organizations. For example, your superstar fundraiser doesn’t like to come to staff meetings, so often shirks this responsibility, because they have “more important” things to do. They are great at asking for gifts from some of your biggest donors, so you allow it. However, this sets up a dangerous dynamic. This tells the rest of the team that this person is more important than the rest of them. The people who attend the meeting are implicitly being told that what they have to say is not of high enough value to be heard by the whole team. This creates a hierarchical dynamic among employees where there isn’t one. How can you expect these folks to operate as a team, when you have told them some members are more valuable than others?
While there is no magic solution for fixing a team that isn’t working, I recommend trying to figure out the underlying problem. Stay away from popular “team building” exercises and instead get back to basics – effectively train and coach your employees, set clear expectations for all, practice learning from mistakes instead of punishing, and reward the entire team as a team whenever there is a success!