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When Teamwork at Work Fails

Too Much “Team” and Not Enough “Work”?

Teamwork at work can often fail, not because people don’t get on, but because they get on too well. As teams emerge from a team development phase, many managers fear that teams won’t work together, or that frictions and factions may appear. However, another danger is that too much emphasis on teamwork may result in teams forgetting that working well is a function of a team, not its purpose.

In this article we will discuss this common but often overlooked pitfall in team leadership. In some ways this is the reverse of the issues we discuss in our article teamwork in the workplace. There we highlight what we consider to be crucial conditions that need to be in place to ensure teams do get on.

Continuing our series on stages of team developmentusing out STAR team model, in this article we consider how to recognise and deal with the problem of teams being too cosy. How do we manage a team that has lost its focus on results, but still functions well as a group?ano ften overlooked problemthe problem of a team losing its focus on results, but still functions well as a group.

Our STAR team model suggests that effective teamwork at work happens when four elements (Strengths, Teamwork, Alignment and Results) are in place:

  • Teamwork at workIndividuals flourish as they use and develop their Strengths;
  • People come together building relationships that result in effective Teamwork;
  • The team leader Aligns the team through effective communication of purpose, so that individual strengths combine with teamwork to deliver the teams results;
  • Together everyone achieves more as performance flows and Results that are meaningful and rewarding to the team are achieved.

A different emphasis and focus for each of the STAR model elements is needed at different stages of the team’s development. However over-emphasis on the team can cause significant problems.

One of the dilemas with this problematic aspect of team development is that it can be difficult to spot. Most managers want their teams to get on well together. No obvious signs of tension can be interpreted as a sign that the team is performing well. In reality, it may be that the team has become stuck in the formiing phase, and it not really performing well at all. There is too much teamwork at work, and not enough productivity!

It is quite possible that a team doesn’t really progress to the performance phase because everyone has become too comfortable. When everyone works well together, it can be all too tempting to take things easy, enjoy the team-bonding activity, and in reality, to settle for lower achievement than is needed.

Some typical features of this situtation include:

  • Team relationships have become the focus of activity;
  • Insufficient, irregular, or declining emphasis on achieving targets as indicators of performance;
  • Team structures and activities becoming governed by routine and systems;
  • The team becomes characterized by coziness and a desire to maintain the “status quo”;
  • A lack of desire to review, question or take on new ideas;
  • An acceptance of a low-challenge, but a strong, supportive team culture.

Although there are real positives to be developed in a well-formed team, effective teamwork at work needs equal attention to both the team and to the work. In order to deal with this situation, you may need to adopt a more hands-on management approach. Ensure you lead regular meetings where the emphasis is on the team’s purpose, and its progress towards targets. Consider more regular team and individual performance reviews. Focus on team performance activities, rather than team bonding exercises.

You may also need to make some tough decisions about the make-up of the team. Is the current situation a result of lack of leadership (yours or within the team)? Is it because of too much influence from one or two members? Is it possible to change the culture with the current team ,if needed? Will you have to consider changing the make-up of the team? It may be a real test of your own management and leadership skills in these situations. Ideally you’ll want to keep the strength of a bonded team intact, whilst re-focusing it onto performing rather than just forming.

If you do have the time to read more on this topic, why not go to our teamwork articles. To read more of about our teamwork concept – the STAR team model- see our articles teamwork theories, teamwork defined and teamwork in the workplace. For a more general introduction to team a good place to start might be to think through why is teamwork important , or you may want to think about how you define teamwork or reminding yourself of the benefits of teamwork.

Finally, for another perspective on teamwork at work, you might like to look at Team Building Here you can read about “the secrets of team building you should have learned in kindergarten. How building a culture of communication and respect in the workplace builds stronger better teams.”

When Teamwork at Work Fails – what to do?

What do you do when teamwork at work fails? Find the answers in our great value e-guide.

It’s far easier to pre-empt problem areas than to recover from difficult situations after they have happened. One thing you don’t need is to become engulfed by problems, simply because you didn’t see the warning signs early enough.

This e-guide is packed with practical insights into dealing with team problems, at all stages of their development. And essential reading at any stage of your career!

The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools:

  • Tool 1: Forcing teams
  • Tool 2: Exhausting teams
  • Tool 3: Dorming teams
  • Tool 4: Aligning teams
  • Tool 5: Organizing teams

Each tool will help you to do three things:

  • Assess whether you have this problem.
  • Identify possible options to deal with the problem.
  • Act – put an action plan together. Decide on three or four key actions you intend to take to resolve the problem.

Where to go from here:


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