I’ve lost count of the workshops in which Communication (internal or external) is the number one issue that groups and teams highlight.

The singular most effective way to deal with team problems is to talk about them.

BUT, how do we talk about them? What do we talk about?

It is not uncommon that teams struggle. It could be…

  • Trying to start a new project
  • Trying to end a project
  • Trying to adapt to a new leader
  • Trying to adapt to a new member or members
  • Trying to deal with competing loyalties
  • Trying to implement new processes or procedures
  • If the team is newly formed and team members are still at the stage of getting to know each other “as part of this unique team”, I would like to suggest that article

    Understanding Group Dynamics – Stages of Team Growth [2005-10-26], Article ID: 87167

    should also be read to understand better the different (and sometimes difficult) stages that a new team will definitely go through.

    Suggested Causes Why The Team Is Struggling

    Lack of Clear, Specific Objectives

    The team or, at least, certain members may feel a little overwhelmed or uncertain as to their responsibilities, their key objectives and especially how they will be measured and held accountable. Moreover, there will be no real sense of Purpose or Direction.

    Left unmanaged, this can lead to wasted discussions and activities, no sense of working together, and objectives not being met.

    Too Early

    Teams can also struggle if the individual members are still unsure of their fellow team members. Some may feel that they still don’t know others well enough to discuss issues or engage in real decision making. Some members may be reluctant to view their opinions, make suggestions especially if they are new to the team and are not (or feel they are not) encouraged to do so.

    Lack of Consensus

    Struggling to make decisions as a group may suggest a lack of consensus and, again, some members are reluctant, a little unsure to indicate that they don’t agree and cannot support the team’s decisions or conclusions.

    Unable To Close

    Different thoughts, feelings, fears may be at play here. At the end of a specific project, team members may be reluctant to ‘officially’ close the project. Maybe they are looking for something more, maybe the feel they are not ready to complete. This can result in decisions / conclusions being left open and the project being delayed.

    This can also be the case when moving on from one phase to another. It may also be that team members are reluctant to move on because they feel unsure of what is required of them, there may a lack of a clear plan or, again, objectives are not specific enough.

    On a different slant, if the team has been together for some time, bonded well and achieved some significant results or improvements,closing can prove to be a tough time for the team members. In busy organizations, where mutiple deadlines have to be met, this transition may be overlooked or not seen as all that important. Believe me, just as it takes individuals time to become a successful, cohesive unit, it also takes time for that team to separate. Please do not underestimate the importance of this. Sorry, no it doesn’t fall into the ‘Touchy Feely’ category!!!

    Fear of Failure

    This relates to either the inability to close the project off or even move from one phase to the next. It may be that presentations or reviews have to be made to senior management or groups outside the team and there is a reluctance to share the team’s conclusions in case the results are not appreciated or are open to criticism, fair or unfair.

    All of these causes can be dealt with and, indeed, avoided. Much of this falls upon the shoulders of team leader but that is not to say that individual team members should not take their share of responsibility in making the team a successful one.

    Team Problems and How We Should Talk About Them

    Before highlighting some clues for dealing with the above causes, I would like to talk about Feedback. Giving and Receiving Feedback / Constructive Criticism is not easy and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it is.

    The ONLY objective has to be successful problem resolution measured by the team making significant progress and moving forward as a cohesive unit.

    If anyone uses ‘feedback’ as a means of delaying progress, revenge, upsetting people or any other less than positive motive, I suggest that the team would be more productive and a lot happier without that individual (no matter how successful that individual is).

    Most of us understand the value of team building and interpersonal skills as well as technical skills especially in a leadership or team role. There are some excellent courses on Giving and Receiving Feedback and well worth the investment.

    I will cover the basics in a later article.

    Let’s Not Struggle Any More

    Although these clues are aimed at the team leader, again, individual team members have a key role to play in moving the team forward.

  • Objectives need to be clear, specific and measurable. If there is not true consensus, find out why and deal with it because without it, the team will definitely not achieve all it can achieve.
  • Part of reaching consensus is making sure everyone understands how these objectives relate to the overall Purpose and Direction of the team. What is the team’s ‘Mission’?
  • Being aware of and understanding any external influences and their relative importance helps the team to manage them. Remember, you may need the backing of these ‘influences’ at a later stage.
  • Identify and articulate what is needed to move on if stuck. Do you need more information or data? Would additional support or assurances help? Identify and deal constructively with team member’s feelings whether reasonable or unfounded.
  • With advance notice and ‘Meetings Best Practice’ facilitate a specific session with the objective of determining exactly how the team will move forward. Then make sure it does!
  • Make sure any review or presentation is the best it can be. All conclusions/recommendations are supported by hard data. Anticipate objections and determine how to deal with them. As team leader ALWAYS support your team players in an external situation.
  • To help the group deal with the transition of separation at the end of a project, celebrate the team’s success, communicate the team’s success, publish their results. Be there for the team members after the team has separated, they were there for you!
  • The next article will look at Reluctant Team Members.

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