5 Big Obstacles To Team Success
By Adam Schorr
As a leader, one of your most important roles is to set direction for your team — to paint a picture of the future, build belief, and get everyone inspired and ready to go. But what happens when you’ve done that to the best of your ability and things still aren’t clicking?
You have a sense of what the team needs to do and why. Everyone is motivated, skilled, and has a positive attitude. And yet you’re not seeing the actions you expected.
The transition from intent to action isn’t always smooth, and even the most effective managers and team members can get tripped up by a number of factors. Let’s discuss five common obstacles that can derail the most well-meaning teams.
1. Feelings of powerlessness
Sometimes people don’t act because they believe their actions won’t have any effect. For example, the team might believe that no matter how good their ideas are, those ideas will get rejected by someone higher up the chain. Or they might believe that the competition is so far ahead that nothing they do will change the outcome.
If you suspect that such beliefs might be stifling the team, try the following exercise:
- List the factors required for success. They might include budget, time, adequate technology, a willing customer, etc. List them.
- Create two columns on a piece of paper or a whiteboard: In one column, have the team write the requirements they believe to be outside their control; in the other, write those within their control.
- For each item in the first column, brainstorm one thing the team can do to increase their level of influence. Ask lots of “what if” questions to help the team summon their imagination. Often this exercise helps the team see that more power is in their hands than they realized. And that reinvigorates the team’s will.
2. No clear “way we do it”
Another obstacle may be that everyone follows a slightly different approach to the work, which can water down the impact of the team’s efforts. Aligning on common methods can help, but creating team rituals can go even further. A ritual is an act with symbolic meaning and predictable structure — something like a daily team huddle or a weekly round of appreciations. Rituals add a certain uniqueness to the way your team does its work, and that uniqueness can help the team bond and collaborate more effectively.
Follow these steps to create a team ritual:
- Gather the team to identify which tasks or activities could benefit from a common method.
- Then go beyond: Discuss how you might tailor these common methods with an element of uniqueness.
- Pick one or two rituals and get started.
Adapted under the creative commons license from a photo by ..stina..
3. Poor time management
We often have a faulty sense of how we use our time: Your team might believe it’s acting consistently with your agreed direction but, unknowingly, might be spending much of their time undermining it.
To find out if that’s the case, try the following exercise:
- Ask each team member to review their calendars and create a pie chart of how they spent their time the previous week. Pie pieces could include: answering emails, visiting customers, attending internal meetings, etc.
- Get the team together to discuss. After each person shares their pie chart, pick the three tasks or activities that consumed the most team time and discuss whether they moved the team closer to your goals, further away, or had no impact.
- Discuss what work can be eliminated to free team time for activities most likely to drive results.
Adapted under the creative commons license from a photo by garann
4. Lack of accountability for the whole team
Your team has its greatest impact when everyone is working as one toward a shared goal. If the members of your team are misaligned or acting at cross-purposes — even unwittingly — they won’t be as effective.
To prevent this from happening, get together and, as a team, talk about how your work is interdependent:
- Ask each person to identify how their work is affected by what other team members do or don’t do. Have them identify what they need from other team members and what they are willing to do to support other team members.
- Ask everyone to commit to a few actions in writing.
- In 30 days, revisit these commitments as a team to track progress and adjust as needed.
Adapted under the creative commons license from a photo by Ben Beltran
5. No sense of momentum
Belief gets people started, but results help them keep going. If your team doesn’t see frequent evidence of progress — however incremental — they may lose heart and give up.
If you notice that the team isn’t taking time to take stock of your progress, start a new team ritual of sharing success stories:
- Begin every meeting by asking someone on the team to share a success story — big or small. If team meetings aren’t practical, email is also an effective medium. What’s important is to make sure that everyone on the team has a clear line of sight to all of the team’s successes and wins.
- Remember that your role here is critical because you might be privy to information that your team doesn’t have. If you’re seeing evidence of your team’s success — from external stakeholders, for example — make sure they know it.
Translating intent into action is hard work. There is no silver bullet. If the team is aligned, but you can’t seem to get a foothold or build any momentum, any one of these factors could be a sticking point. So, whenever you get that feeling that the team isn’t making the progress it should be, call a team meeting. Working together, you can start to diagnose and address the problem.
Adam Schorr, chief marketing and culture officer at Hello Products, is a former SYPartners principal and forever friend of the SYP family. A version of this post about team success originally appeared on Teamworks.
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