Recently, I spent a wonderful day teaching team concepts to individuals from various teams for an organization on the East Coast of the US. During our group discussions, one participant shared that her team had been struggling for many months. In fact, there were so many problems with this team that it had been reorganized on four different occasions. She was frustrated, unhappy, and discouraged. When she described the team, I could see how difficult this experience had been for her. She wanted some answers to these problems and solicited ideas from the class as to what to do.Tips and suggestions came quickly and easy from the class members. As a group we talked about disciplinary action to team members for poor performance. Others suggested a team retreat, while others pointed out that another reorganization of the team might be needed.
I listened intently to the discussion and even offered a few suggestions myself. Although the leader of this team had tried to fix the structure of the team, in an effort to get them on track, to me, structure was not the problem. In this situation, the problem was a lack in other key elements of effective teams. One of the areas clearly missing with this team was clarity of purpose. This team lacked direction and had too many members feeling vague about the team’s mission, goals, and ultimate objectives for working together. Teams without clear direction are easy to spot.
Some of the symptoms of a team without direction include:
1. Team members who struggle with change.
2. Team members with competing priorities.
3. A lack of communication within the team that causes ambiguity.
4. Lack of accountability for missteps toward the team’s goals and objectives.If we look closely at world class teams, we see that they understand to the nth degree their mission.
Team members with clear direction know where they are going, and what they are doing to help the team reach its objective. I find that high performing teams can easily answer these questions:
1. What is our team’s singular reason for existence?
2. What are our strategic priorities?
3. What are the shared values that will guide behavior and actions of each team member?
Teams performing below standard often try to fix the wrong thing. In many cases it isn’t who is on the team, but more about the direction and clarity of the team’s mission. I believe that the first step in achieving effective teamwork is to create a clear direction for the team members need to give their full commitment to the team’s performance.
Without direction and accountability, teams will have varying degrees of performance and failure. So if your team is performing less than up to par, ask yourself if the team understands its direction.