5 Reasons We Suck at Teamwork

Christine Ziebell
Mar 13, 2018 · 5 min read

Often, we believe in ourselves and our skills so profoundly that we are willing to take on just about anything on our own. As a result, we sometimes, forget that one person is simply not enough. Companies, organizations, and businesses rely on teams — not just individuals — to reach their goals.

They rely on collaboration, which allows team members to amplify their strengths, complement weaknesses, and create innovative solutions to pressing problems and challenges.

However, for many reasons, most of us suck at teamwork. Let’s have a look at a few of these reasons so that we can overcome them and make teamwork more productive.

1. We Can’t Identify the Leader Among Us

A team only functions as well as it’s being led.

Sometimes, we have trouble determining a leader for our team. Maybe this is because we don’t think anyone should be given a higher position than others on the team, or maybe we all feel like we should be the leader. In any case, a team without a team leader doesn’t work in practice — here’s why.

In the absence of a leader, a team lacks structure. If there is a conflict, someone needs to resolve it. If the team members aren’t feeling motivated, someone needs to boost the morale. When the team feels stuck, someone needs to provide direction.

A leader sets the standards for how the team should operate, bringing discipline to the team so that it can prosper. At the same time, a leader also needs to remember his or her most important role, which is to empower the team.

2. We’re Not Good with Diversity

Typically, any team will have at least one or two people whose personalities don’t match up well. Whether we realize it or not, this can affect our own behavior on the team. For example, we might not be sharing information effectively because we don’t trust the other team members’ ability to contribute in a meaningful way.

Or we might stop caring about consensus because we feel we know better. If we shut down others when we disagree with them, we create lack of trust and low engagement on the team.

We need to recognize that numerous studies show that diverse teams are smarter. Which means we need to respect diversity. This includes listening to everyone’s opinion and giving them an opportunity to present their point of view. We need to put our egos aside, be humble, and realize it’s not always our way or the highway.

We also need to bear in mind that each team member has a different role in the team. If we are able to harness the different skills each member has to offer, we can achieve more together than we could as individuals. Common interests and common values are at the foundation of great teamwork, but complimentary talents are what ultimately make teamwork successful.

3. We Don’t Communicate Enough

Good communication is at the heart of good teamwork. Great teams communicate well and often, their members are happy to share ideas, brainstorm together, ask for feedback, and always be challenged.

So, how do we enable good team communication?

  • By Listening. Arguably, communication is at least as much about listening as it is about talking. Be sure to listen to your team members, acknowledge their point of view and give real consideration to their input.
  • By Respecting That We Communicate Differently. Acknowledging that there are different types of communicators, and learning how to adjust yours to effectively get your message across to them, makes a huge difference in how well your team will function.
  • By Choosing the Right Tools (But Not Too Many of Them) to Communicate. This day and age, there are many methods you can use to communicate. For a team to work well, you should be using several of them that complement each other. However, it’s important not to implement too many overlapping communication tools, as this will only cause confusion and lead to wasted time when people can’t remember where to find a discussion or material. Always consider which method is going to work best with the situation at hand: email, a chat tool, a discussion board, a phone call, or face-to-face?
  • By Communicating Often. The best teams communicate all the time, not just when there is a formal get-together. Using online collaboration tools are a great way to encourage this type of interaction, and they also enable team members to connect across the world, across offices, and at times that are most convenient for them. Effective use of online collaboration tools leads to team members not just working as a team, but also thinking as a team.

4. We Can’t Grasp the Common Goal

If the team doesn’t clearly understand the purpose of their work, their attention and enthusiasm will most likely dwindle. Therefore, every team needs to have a compelling direction, a goal.

The key to motivating a team is being clear about why you’re doing what you’re doing. But that’s not going to be enough. You also need commitment. Every team member should buy into the common goal — if they don’t buy into it, they shouldn’t be on the team.

Another important element is that the goal needs to be focused and clear. Preferably, you want to have a goal that is measurable — one that can be objectively verified as accomplished. If the goal of the team is too obscure, and the team can’t celebrate the success of reaching it, working towards the goal can become demotivating to the team.

5. We Don’t Welcome New Team Members

Not all teams have members that are well acquainted with one another. Sometimes, we end up in a team where many members are new, untrained or unfamiliar with the way things work in our setting. In these cases, teamwork can suffer the most.

If a team has a history of working together, it is more likely to succeed. But in the real world, we can’t always choose to just work with people we have worked with before. In order to mitigate the effects of having new members on the team, everyone should work together to get the new members up to speed as soon as possible.

That way, the new team members can adopt the team’s way of working and start establishing a history with the team, which means they can also start contributing towards the common goal.

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