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When you ask people to describe the experience of working in teams, they often use words like “frustrating”, “disappointing”, and “waste of time”. But on the other hand, when you ask them to identify peak experiences at work, people frequently cite times when they worked with a group to accomplish a particularly challenging task. So what makes the difference? How can you tell whether a team will produce outstanding results or flame out completely? Here are a few signs that a group may be doomed to fail.
Research has consistently found that teams of superstars seldom perform as well as groups of more “average” people. Why? Because they all want to lead. And no team can succeed when everyone is pulling in a different direction. On a team, superstars need to learn that they cannot always be in control.
Teamwork is virtually impossible when the goals are not clear. Without well-defined objectives, a group cannot develop effective strategies and action plans. When a team is floundering and making little progress, the first question should be, “Do we all understand and agree on the goals that we are trying to accomplish?”
When team members aren’t sure who is supposed to do what, the result is that some things never get done. Or two people wind up working on the same thing. The ultimate outcome is usually conflict and wasted effort. To resolve this problem, team members need to clearly define everyone’s responsibilities.
When groups split into separate factions, it’s impossible to have a team. Some people may feel that they are being deprived of information or excluded from activities. Hostilities may even develop between the groups. At this point, either the cliques need to be broken up or the team should disband.
Disagreements about ideas, methods, strategies, and actions are welcome on a team. After all, the purpose of a team is to bring together people with different perspectives and abilities. But when conflicts become personal, relationships deteriorate and collaboration becomes impossible. On a team, disagreements should always focus on the work, not on team members’ personalities.
When groups are asked to tackle projects with unachievable objectives or totally unrealistic deadlines, no one stays motivated for long. People fail to complete tasks, stop showing up for meetings, or drop off the team altogether. Impossible tasks must either be defined more realistically or abandoned.
One sure sign of a team in trouble is that the group never laughs or jokes together. A deadly serious atmosphere either means that failure seems imminent or relationships are strained to the breaking point. These humorless groups need to step back from their tasks and decide how to get the group back on track.