January 1, 2009 by Jill Geddes, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc
Every team has them - team challenges - and if not addressed, they will affect team success to various degrees, as they wear down morale and interfere with getting the job done. No two teams are exactly alike, and there is no one formula to help a team through their particular challenges. So, how does a team begin the process of diagnosing and addressing their challenges? To get started, it requires having honest conversations involving everyone on the team in order to gain a more holistic picture and understanding of the problem. Taking ownership of the challenges will empower the team to create a plan to tackle them.
Common Team Challenges
One of the greatest challenges for teams is the struggle and resulting tension that arises from a group of individuals coming together to work as a team towards a common purpose. Each person has their own skills, values, biases, interests and style of communicating and working; which they then have to set aside, to a certain extent, in order to work together as a group. Being part of a team requires members to involve others in making important decisions, to share critical information openly and at times, to sacrifice personal agendas for the good of the team.
With the merging of individuals working together, it is natural to come up against challenges that will hinder team progress. Here are some examples of typical issues that stem from the joining of a group of individuals:
- Interpersonal differences leading to misunderstandings
- Power struggles and competing agendas
- Members who appear to reject new ideas and bring a constant sense of negativity
- Team that agrees on everything too quickly just to avoid conflict
- Lack of adequate support and resources
- Ineffective leadership
- Members resistant to change or a new way of working
- Not enough complimentary skills on the team
Starting the Conversation
Addressing team problems, first and foremost, requires having the conversation, on an individual and team basis. For everyone involved, the value comes from the process of having the conversation, from people sharing their fears, concerns, and expectations for the team. Honesty, integrity, and time - these words do not always go hand in hand with office and team politics, but this is what is required to move a team forward towards high performance.
Diagnosing the Problem
Understanding the challenges that exist on a team and recognizing the biggest obstacles to success may be difficult to assess without the aid of an outside perspective. When team managers are asked to evaluate how well their teams are doing with respect to both progress towards goals and satisfaction among members, surprisingly many managers have very little intuitive sense of what their team is experiencing. Frequently managers are taken aback to find out the challenges that the team feels they are experiencing are quite different from their assessment of the situation. In other cases, the manager has made an accurate assessment of the team challenges but they are at a loss of how to begin to address them.
To begin the process of solving team challenges, it requires asking difficult questions. As a follow through, it requires having the tools and procedures in place to deal with the answers to those questions. Some examples of questions to start this process off include the following:
- What is the biggest struggle this team is facing at the moment?
- What fears and concerns do people have about moving this team forward?
- What can be done to help this team perform at a higher level?
- What does this team need to stop, start and continue doing?
Addressing the Challenges
When a team has been actively involved in diagnosing the team problem, they have a stake in developing and implementing a solution. It is as important for a team to develop a plan for how they will work together and address their challenges, as it is for the team to have a work plan. This team agreement should be a living document that is revisited on an ongoing basis as the team evolves and changes. Taking ownership of the challenges and holding each other accountable will empower members to achieve their goals and increase satisfaction.