10 reasons that your team isn’t working

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Published on: February 2018

Written by: Tom Hammar

Teamflow Part 2: What happens when you don’t have teamflow, and why

Teamflow is one of the key components necessary for great strategy execution, and an essential element of effective leadership teams. In the first part of this three-part series on teamflow, I introduced what defines effective and ineffective leadership teams – the missing element from the latter is teamflow. In this piece, I will outline the top 10 derailers of leadership teams, and follow up in the next with 5 top tips on overcoming these issues so that ineffective leadership teams can develop into effective ones.

Now that we’ve identified what happens when teams don’t have teamflow, we need to examine why it happens and how it impacts the organization as a whole. Here are the 10 “derailers,” or reasons why teams lack flow:

1. Unclear purposeThe team confuses their purpose with the purpose of the organization that they lead
Simply put, the purpose of the leadership team is to enable the organization they serve, and the organization’s purpose is to execute. Any misunderstanding about this distinction will result in a leadership team performing less than optimally.

2. Lack of trustThe team does not take time to build trust and psychological safety
Authentic trust within a team is necessary for enabling team members to fully contribute. Without the ability to be vulnerable, leaders are silenced from voicing new, creative, innovative, and even provocative solutions to problems.

3. Unclear guidelinesThe team has unclear and/or unarticulated team behavior guidelines
Teams without clear guidelines adopt lowest-common-denominator behavior, which allows bad habits to form and become the status quo, leading to a downward spiral of decreasing effectiveness.

4. Inflated size The team has grown too big
The size of the team matters much more than you think, and allowing more people to join the leadership team “to be nice” or “the more the merrier” is not an effective strategy. Too many people putting in their two cents make it more difficult to make decisions, not easier.

5. Meeting soupThe team lacks discipline in meetings
Mixing tactical and strategic issues into the same meeting muddles structure and prevents effective decision-making and prevents the team to deeply discuss the strategic issues that mean the most for the organization’s long-term success.

6. Lack of focusThe group does not prioritize their efforts
If everything is important, nothing is. When the scope of the team’s prioritizations becomes too many, it is impossible to achieve its purpose because there isn’t enough focus on what really needs to happen.

7. No reflectionThe group does not spend time reflecting on how they function as a team
Not taking the time to look back on what has happened and review successes or failures prevents leadership teams from learning from their mistakes or understanding why goals were or were not achieved.

8. Weak presenceThe group is not invested in being mentally checked-in during meetings
Permitting the use of cellphones and computers during meetings allows leaders to become distracted, even if they intend to stay focused. Eliminating these distractions promotes engagement, active participation and energy.

9. Insufficient responsibility for cross-functional collaborationThe leaders are not holding themselves accountable for cross-functional collaboration
When leaders push the expectation of cross-functional collaboration down in the organization without exemplifying it themselves, they are doing a disservice to themselves and to those that they lead. A Leadership team is in its essence is a cross-functional unit. Leading by example is essential.

10. Loyalty confusionThe leaders are unable to see the big picture
This derailer is the most important. In this case, leaders in the group are acting as representatives rather than team members. Failure to act as with the best interest of the team and the organization you serve is a recipe for failure.

In my work, I have observed these 10 derailers in various combinations – which is largely inevitable, as derailers are highly interdependent. For example, at one insurance company whose leaders assured me that they had a clear purpose (the lack of which is derailer #1), I asked all of the leaders to write down the team’s purpose on a Post-It note. However, when I asked them to put all the Post-Its up on the wall, everyone was nervous. Their answers weren’t all the same. It was clear that they were not completely aligned. If everyone had actually known the team’s purpose, all their answers would have been the same.

In another case, a global construction company was burdened with innumerable meetings – all boring, ineffective, and a waste of time. The meetings were long and ineffective because leaders were not focused and spent a lot of time on their phones or computers rather than honing in on the issues at hand. This organization exemplified three derailers: Meeting Soup, Lack of Focus, and Weak Presence (derailers #5, #6, and #8). Altering the structure and securing the focus of all of the leaders, both in terms of alignment to the team purpose and to the meeting were essential for overcoming this issue.

In another leadership team at the insurance organization, the leadership team was 15 people. The group was so large that even the members of the group didn’t know exactly how many people were a part of it. The group size had exploded because the leader lacked the courage to make politically uncomfortable decisions and say “no” to people who felt they should be on the team. Instead, they said, “it couldn’t hurt if so-and-so joined,” and the group kept expanding. With this many people, and the lack of knowledge of exactly who was a part of the leadership team, making decisions was impossible. Derailer #4, Inflated Size, was the culprit of this leadership team’s inability to function in an effective way.

These scenarios demonstrate how easily the 10 derailers of leadership teams can exist within organizations. In any combination, they create a dysfunctional group of leaders who can’t make decisions or get anything done – hugely problematic for an organization. In the final part of the series, I will discuss my top 5 tips for overcoming a dysfunctional group of leaders to create a successful leadership team.