7 Reasons Why Teams don't Work

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Hong Sun
Management Consultant, Canada

7 Reasons Why Teams don't Work

Despite the widespread belief that working in teams makes people more creative and productive, research consistently shows that teams underperform or do not work well more often than not. Hereunder are seven causes of poor team performance and/or reasons why teams don't really work:
  1. BAD LEADERSHIP: Leadership is tentative, inconsistent, or stupid; maybe the team leader is promoted up based on politics rather than skills.
    Solution: When forming a team, the very first critical thing to do is to choose the right leader, or else the team has no chance to perform. The leader has to learn to serve the team and keep its vision alive, or leave leadership to someone else.
  2. CONFUSED GOALS, CLUTTERED OBJECTIVES: People don't know what they're supposed to do, or feel what they're doing makes no sense.
    Solution: Set a clear compelling team direction; clarify the reason why the team exists; define its purpose and expected outcomes; and inform team members what is expected of them.
  3. BAD POLICIES, STUPID PROCEDURES: Team is at the mercy of an employee handbook from hell.
    Solution: Throw away the book and start making sense of reality; engage team members in designing policies and procedures tailor-made for the team.
  4. PERSONALITY CONFLICTS: Team members do not get along due to bad DNA matching.
    Solution: Use personality assessment and open discussions to learn what team members expect from one another, what they prefer, and how they differ. Diversity in team personality is a good thing, but cohesiveness is equally important; when cohesiveness cannot be reached despite compromises, reforming the team may be the solution.
  5. INSUFFICIENT FEEDBACK AND INFORMATION: Performance is not being measured; team members are groping in the dark.
    Solution: Establish measures for team performance; keep all work related information transparent and create free flows of useful information to and from all team members.
  6. ILL-CONCEIVED REWARD SYSTEMS: People are being rewarded for the wrong things, such as individual accomplishment alone or sticking to the rules even when flexibility is required.
    Solution: Design rewards that make team members feel safe to do their job in ways they believe are the best and to seek improvement with creativity; focus more on group rewards.
  7. LACK OF TEAM TRUST: The team is not a real team because members are unable to commit to it.
    Solution: Either build trust in the team or disband or reform the team. Authentic leadership plays a key role in building trust in the team. The team leader needs to abandon close supervision and trust others in their capability of doing a good job; the leader himself/herself also needs to be trustworthy so as to inspire confidence in others that they can trust their leader not to punish them if they make a mistake, and that they will be fairly treated.
Source: Appelbaum, Steven H. "Why Teams Don't Really Work." Organizational Behavior & Organizational Theory, JMSB, Concordia University, September, 2005.

  Philippe Guenet
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