Management experts and researchers agree that successful organizations are characterized by effective teamwork. Organizations are increasingly realizing the importance of developing teams that can work in a coordinated, efficient, and creative manner.
If you recognize the need for team development, and are planning some initiatives for that purpose, you should have some idea of the pitfalls, and how to go about it. Whether you hire a consultant to help, or you lead the process yourself, you need to know what must be avoided and why team initiatives fail.
Why Team Initiatives Fail
Many team building initiatives fail because there are inherent mistakes in designing and organizing these initiatives. We have seen an enormous amount of resources going down the drain in team- building initiatives due to the following drawbacks:
Disinterested Senior Management
Any team development initiative will plainly fail if the senior leaders stay utterly aloof from the activity. The easiest way to derail the initiative is to bring the CEO or formal leader of the team into the session as an observer. We discourage observers totally. It is unfortunate that management sometimes enters into a team- building in a somewhat detached way. The uninvolved manager looks at team development as something meant for others, not for herself. She thinks that it will help others change, but she doesn’t need it.
After going through latterly hundreds of team building initiatives, I have reached the conclusion that the most influential person in most teams is the formal leader. Like it or not, he sets the tone for the team, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is obvious that team effectiveness cannot be improved unless the manager is willing to look at his contributions to the team. Management often has to change too.
No Need Assessment
Teams are never similar. Each team is different, with distinct strengths and weaknesses. Any team development intervention must build on these specific strengths and address weaknesses. Without considering these elements, you run the risk of using a process that will be irrelevant or useless. It can result in lack of credibility for the process and the initiator, who is most probably you.
A comprehensive need analysis exercise should precede any team- building initiative. It is the first step in the process. If you are hiring an outside consultant, insist for a thorough team assessment as the first step. Without analysis, you will end up going nowhere.
Short Term Focus
Another significant reason for failure is the lack of a long-term strategy for team development. Managers often arrange for a retreat or team building day-out without a precise knowledge of the long- range future for the team. That is the reason why a one-day exercise filled with fun usually results in a brief motivational spurt that rapidly declines. Many a time teams will highlight issues that cannot be solved during a single day. The result is more frustration and lack of credibility. As a leader, you must design a long-term strategy to nurture your team.
Team building will not succeed unless conflicts and problems are brought out into the open and dealt with properly. A climate of blame, defensiveness, and a lack of capability to deal with conflict does not allow teams to give and receive constructive feedback in a safe environment.
There are times when an outside consultant may be required. While an outside consultant may also bring specialized skills that are lacking within the organization, the most important reason for using one is that the “outsider” has no history or connection with the organization, no preconceptions, and may enjoy more credibility than someone who is perceived as having his/her own agenda.
Deciding to hire an outside consultant to help out can really make a difference. However, the team should not become too dependent on the consultant. Eventually, the team has to develop the ability to improve on its own. You need to steer clear of these mistakes while deciding to lead any team building activities, or hiring someone to facilitate team building.
Unimpressive team building is worse than doing nothing. Inadequately thought out efforts are likely to increase negativity, reduce effective team functioning, and decrease management credibility. Your own personal credibility as a manager depends a lot on your making effective team building decisions from day one. This will also impact the degree to which your employees have confidence in you.
At the end of one team building initiative, I heard the HR Head of the company with tears in her eyes saying to me. “I am crying because for the first time in my career somebody has appreciated the efforts made by the HR department.”
Why most of the HR leaders in high performing organizations request outside consultants to run team building interventions for them? Reason is simple. HR hires people, transfers them, plans promotions, and decides on pay-raises and so on. And if the same people are running a team-building exercise, the participants become a little uncomfortable, wondering if there is a hidden agenda. Are their job skills being assessed? Is there anything they don’t know yet? Even if people don’t express their apprehensions, they harbor these feelings inside.
On the other hand, if you bring in somebody from outside, they start with a clean slate. An outsider can ask questions – even the dumbest, most obvious questions are perceived as objective. It is also amazing to see what employees will tell them and what they will share.
No Team Evaluation
Once we start a team development initiative, we often optimistically assume that things are improving without going to the trouble of putting in place a mechanism for regular evaluation of team functioning. If you believe that team building is a long-term process, then you (and the team members) need to know whether it is succeeding or not. How are you progressing? What is team’s reaction to the ongoing support from you?
You need to understand that the team improvement process is rarely smooth. There are invariably glitches. You must be able to identify obstacles so that the team can work to eliminate them. It is strongly recommended that you plan regular evaluation of team progress.
Faulty Teamwork Model
We often make the mistake of focusing only on a single aspect of team functioning. Somehow we completely ignore many other elements that are critical to team success and effectiveness. Team building is just not that simple. You will agree with me that a team, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest component.
It is rare indeed that a team will benefit by focusing on only one aspect of team development. In fact, what may happen is that the one-dimensional team building process may actually increase frustration and destroy the credibility of the process.
In case, we forget the multi-dimensional nature of team building dynamics, we must not ignore the importance of creating a model of how teams function. This helps us focus also on the areas that cause a decline in the team’s effectiveness. It is essential to know what an effective team requires. We must ensure that the goals and mission are clearly stated and commonly understood. The talents and skills required to meet those goals properly identified. And an understanding of procedures, norms and interpersonal decorum fully accepted. It is equally important to put in place a system of reinforcement and celebration, with a clear perception of the team’s contribution to the organizational philosophy.
I hope you enjoyed why team initiatives fail.