3 signs that your team isn’t functioning effectively

Ever had that nagging feeling that your team isn’t functioning as well as it could be?

Things are getting missed, attention to detail is lacking and there seems to be a general lack of enthusiasm and resignation for the task at hand. A sense of urgency is a thing of the past.

If you’re seeing this in your team, you are probably exasperated. “Why don’t they care about what they are doing?”, you scream internally.

Before you blow your top, see whether these key factors might be the cause of your issues.

1: Your team is doing work that you don’t know about

Your team is not necessarily being sneaky or malicious — they seem to be busy all the time. So what are they actually doing?

If you are a busy leader, you may not get the chance to check in with your team as much as you would like to, and your busy appearance may just have them feeling like they shouldn’t bother you with trivial things.

Here is what you need to find out:

Is somebody else giving your team work to do without telling you? This can be a real problem if the Executive team come calling with an urgent issue. Your team won’t feel like they can refuse. If you’re not in the loop, you can’t reprioritise and tell your stakeholders of potential delays. This issue is rife in “matrix” organisations, where there can often be a lack of clarity as to who the boss is.

I used to work in a large international consultancy where the partners had a number of grandiose titles that made it difficult to tell who was in charge:

Stacey is the Global Client Lead Partner for BigCo, but this is a Supply Chain engagement and the head of Supply Chain for Asia Pac is Bert. But then the head of Consulting where BigCo is located is Claire. The lead Partner on the engagement is Tom. Who the hell is in charge of this?

Is the work simply more difficult than it seemed to be in the first place?

Sometimes the work just takes longer because once you look into it, there are far more complications than you originally thought. If your team agreed to some deadline and now they are struggling to meet it for this reason, it’s important that you’re aware of it. Otherwise some people may kill themselves trying to meet a deadline that is no longer reasonable — especially if they don’t feel comfortable telling you about the issues.

2: Your team doesn’t have any priorities

Does all the work of your team “need to get done now”? If so, you’ve got to learn how to prioritise, or you need to teach your stakeholders that this is important.

It seems funny, but once everything becomes urgent, then actually NOTHING is urgent. People who are given multiple “highest priority” jobs realise that they can’t possibly do them all straight away and there can be a tendency to simply stop trying. You might find you’re the only person left in the office at 5pm when your team realises they are in a no-win situation. They might as well enjoy some leisure time because they’re screwed anyway!

Lack of priorities can also stem from the issues above — a lack of clear accountability means that nobody is certain which leader’s work is more important to tackle first. Some leaders fail to state clear priorities in the hope that everything will just get done — but this is a false assumption and should be avoided at all costs.

Ask yourself:

Assuming not everything can be completed instantly, what would I ideally want to be completed first?

Often, prioritising means pushing back on your stakeholders. They need to be educated and learn that even if they rant and rave about how they need everything done right now — it ain’t going to happen. And often you have to be the one that tells them that, if you don’t want your team to be in a position where they feel they can’t win.

3: People are out for themselves

Another telltale sign that your team isn’t working effectively is that the team members start to show behaviour indicating that they care more about themselves than the team itself.

Some examples of this behaviour include:

  • Making decisions or changes without telling anybody, even though they would most likely know others would care about those decisions
  • Ceasing to offer to help their team mates, when they used to frequently lend a helping hand when required
  • Doing the work that interests them personally, and letting the rest of the work slide until they are reprimanded for it.

I find that all of these behaviours can generally be attributed to the amount of work that has been lumped on individuals in a team, once again without any attached priorities.

People start to resent the interference of others in their work day and disengage from the team as a defence mechanism. They feel that if they didn’t do this, they wouldn’t get anything done and they’ll get in trouble.

Don’t let your team fall into dysfunctional behaviours — watch out for the telltale signs above and address them by:

  • Keeping track of your team’s workload
  • Understanding who is giving your team work to do (it might not be just you)
  • Setting priorities, so people know what work is really important
  • Pushing back on people who seek to overload you and your team.

You probably think you know all about what’s going on with your team, but accepting this as truth is a good way to come unstuck.


Originally published at comms101.net on March 12, 2016.