Interactive Tests

Ideas for ‘Why Teams Fail’ Exercise

A number of things can go wrong with a team: some of these are to do with leadership, and others are to do with other issues, but the ideas proposed below are simply ideas. There are rarely right and wrong answers to such questions. Consider the issues below, and click to reveal ideas for solutions.

Private agendas and mismatched needs: Individuals’ motivations may not match those of the team more generally. This issue becomes particularly challenging when those motivations are hidden.

IDEA: Bring those issues into the open, challenge any assumptions, and make it clear that certain agendas (though perhaps it is not a good idea to call them that?) are inappropriate.

Confused and cluttered goals: Goals for the team either are excessively broad or appear to contradict other goals. This can often be the case for group-based coursework assessments.

IDEA: Ensure that the group has an opportunity to go through and clarify what is and is not important.

Confused roles: Individuals are unclear as to what they can and are supposed to be contributing to the team, or more than one person may believe they have the same expertise when each has a different view.

IDEA: Make such issues explicit – ensure that everyone’s roles are clear. There might be some negotiation here, or maybe folks will be happy with the roles they have been given.

Right decisions, wrong process: The team recommends decisions which may be correct but have been taken in a way that generates a great deal of ill feeling.

IDEA: Recognise and deal with the ill feeling, and then ensure that the way decisions are made in the future is improved upon – where appropriate. There is content on Leadership and Decision Making in Chapter 11.

Bad policies, stupid procedures: In larger bureaucratic organisations, the implementation of a good decision can be delayed by rules and processes that are either intended to protect the organisation in some way, or are part of the continued history of the organisation.

IDEA: Find out if there are smarter, more efficient ways of doing the same thing – maybe with different people, or in a different way – while retaining the safeguards which led to the processes in the first place. Of course, sometimes ‘stupid’ procedures are there because something important happened in the past, and so they may be in place for perfectly valid reasons we cannot understand.  

Personality conflicts: People will not always agree about things, but there can be times when team members simply do not get on well. It is true to say that some individuals have personal agendas and this can influence their behaviour as part of the team.

IDEA: Personality conflicts have two possible outcomes: (1) You change the people (as in the people you have in the team need to change and learn to work together), or (2) You change the team composition and get rid of those causing the difficulties. The second is usually somewhat easier than the first, but it might be that the conflict is based on some longstanding misunderstanding which can be solved quite easily.

Bad leadership: Leadership can be poor in that the leader does not provide goals, fails to communicate, contradicts their own values, and has no vision for what needs to be done. This can also show itself through a lack of engagement, where certain individuals are not consulted or asked for their views.

IDEA: Either train (if you have time) or replace the leader.

Bleary vision: The team has an unclear idea of the vision underlying the activities being undertaken. There is no aspiration driving the team’s activities.

IDEA: If there is a larger vision behind the activities, then it will need to be shared within the team. People will usually be committed to something that they can relate to – but if the rationale for the activity is unclear or the vision itself it unclear, then people will struggle to commit to the activity.

Teams are not part of [my] thinking: There are individuals within the team who do not like to work with others for a variety of reasons. These individuals will probably be more reluctant to communicate and do the work that is needed.

IDEA: Sometimes individuals will have good reasons for not wanting to work too closely with others, but their expertise can be really invaluable to the team. In such cases, you may wish to use their expertise but not include them in a great deal of the work that you are doing. In other situations, people’s reasons for not wanting to be part of a team might be less valid and they may be brought into the team with some encouragement. The sharing of the workload means less for each person, but more support for each one (if the team is really operating like a supportive team).

Lack of feedback: The team receives no feedback on its performance and so never develops any motivation from past achievements, nor does it have any idea of how much work there is left to do.

IDEA: This may sound like common sense, but if there is a lack of something and it is not impossible to obtain, then the idea would be to provide it. Providing feedback can motivate and challenge members of the team.

Lack of incentives: There are few rewards either for good performance or for being a part of the team. This means that people are motivated either by the task itself or in being part of a team, but that effort may be limited when the task becomes very difficult.

IDEA: In a similar way to the idea above, then the idea would be to provide what is missing. Find out what incentives might work and try to provide these. 

Lack of trust: For a variety of reasons, members within the team do not believe what other members are saying or why they are doing certain things within the team.

IDEA: This is a far more difficult issue to solve: as the saying goes, trust is built up over a lifetime and destroyed in an instant. It is possible that someone has misinterpreted someone else’s actions and such a perceived breach of trust can be resolved fairly quickly, but where there remains a sense of betrayal or the psychological contract – unwritten implicit agreement between a manager and a worker – has been breached, then things can be far more difficult to resolve. Sometimes, two or more folk might need to be given separate mini-projects to do which complement those of the wider team, but also prevent destructive relationships from causing problems.

Unwillingness to change: The team and its members are unable and unwilling to change what they do or how they do it when things start to go wrong.

IDEA: The team needs to be flexible enough to change what it does. There is strength from getting people to attain a particular goal, but being overly committed to an unachievable goal or inappropriate method is not going to assist anyone.

Lack of tools and/or support: Those responsible for setting up the team provide it with insufficient resources and practical or emotional support when these are needed.

IDEA: Once again, if there is a lack of something and it is not impossible to obtain, then the idea would be to provide it. Providing support costs nothing and can motivate members of the team.

Team roles: If there is an imbalance in the role profiles across the team (see the content above on team composition), then it may be that the team will not have sufficient skills to complete a task.

IDEA: This can be monitored across the progress that the team makes. If there is a need for certain knowledge or skills (and not every skill is required all the time), then those can be added to the team as required.

A lack of ground rules: If there are no or few ground rules, then individuals will develop and follow their own assumptions about how they should function. Teams need to have norms (see the content above related to team development).

IDEA: Again, something that is lacking can be provided. A discussion on ground rules (turning up for meetings, how the members should communicate with each other and so on) could be very valuable at the start of a team project.