The Top 5 Reasons Why Smart Teams Fail

June 15, 2009 Max Isaac

Over and over again, we see smart teams making the same mistakes.  Now you can learn from our experience to maximize your team’s performance by avoiding the top five mistakes that cause teams to fail:

1. Unclear Goals
Many teams attempt to get the job done without establishing common goals for the team or a mission.  Project teams need upfront planning to create guidelines around budget, boundaries, and purpose.  These rules of the game can be provided by management, but they must have understanding and “buy in” from team members in order for the team to be successful.

2. Ignoring the Behavioral Dimensions of a Team
The composition of people and Belbin Team Roles on a team is going to affect how the team will operate.  Acknowledging the basic makeup of the team and setting groundrules up front create optimal conditions for working together.  It can also help to prevent conflict between team members before it even starts.  (We like to approach this through team mapping).

It is not so much the distribution of Team Roles on a team that will produce results, but an awareness of how the team is made up.  Many teams seem to ‘hire in their own image’, creating teams full of one team role (for example, an Implementer may choose to hire an entire team of organized, efficient Implementers).  This kind of a team that is very strong in only one Belbin Team Role usually ends up failing due to a lack of team role diversity, and not having the right people for the task at hand.

One must also bear in mind that one “rotten egg” can drag drag a whole team down if they are not dealt with effectively.  Dysfunctional team members and out-of-control egos must be addressed; the problems will not just melt away by ignoring them.

3. Poor Leadership
It takes a leader to make a real team: someone with leadership skills who is able to inspire his or her team to become a cohesive, motivated group of individuals in support of a common mission.  An excellent team leader can make the whole better than the sum of its parts and achieve synergy on a team.

4. An Inability to Deal with Conflict
Conflict is bound to arise in any team situation; it’s how you deal with it that matters.  Knowing how to deal with conflict in a constructive and non-defensive manner results in learning that moves the team forward.

There can be interpersonal conflict between two team members who exhibit opposite behavioral styles.  An awareness of Belbin Team Role Theory can help individuals to understand that these ‘toxic opposite’ relationships can actually be beneficial!  For example, if a Monitor Evaluator and a Resource Investigator understand that their different behaviors are in fact complementary skill sets they can help each other in achieving the team’s goals.

5. A Lack of Inquiry Skills
Achieving a balance of advocacy and inquiry creates an environment where real learning can occur, and team members are motivated towards a common goal.  Asking questions (inquiry) rather than making assumptions is an important skill in the team environment to create a shared understanding and to reduce personal defensiveness.

In this high-tech day and age, these top five problems are amplified when dealing with virtual teams.  Many virtual project teams fail or are very difficult to manage, and not having the in-person connection between team members exacerbates problems.  An awareness of these failure points and how to deal with them will help to set up all teams for success.

If you’re interested in finding out more:

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