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Teamwork people

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10 Challenges To Team Working

30 second summary:

High performance teams and team working are dominant client themes. Some businesses truly value team-working and see no challenges to them. Other businesses struggle to make good teamwork happen.

This article looks at 10 challenges to team-working that we repeatedly hear from those in high-profile roles – and possible solutions for those challenges.

High performance teams and team working are dominant client themes. Some businesses have nailed this; they value team-working and see no challenge to its continuation. Others struggle to make it happen.

Why is it hard for colleagues to work well together, especially those in high-profile roles?

  1. Individual targets, priorities and accountability – within clear roles and responsibilities. All are necessary for efficient organisations. Yet, let’s be real and recognise that these naturally drive individualistic behaviours. People want to personally survive and succeed. A solution lies in the balance between individual and team targets and in the perceived interdependency between team members.
  2. Competitive drive to achieve results – for self and for the team. A sense of “my head’s on the block” drives “me”/“I” language even when the desired mind-set is “us”/“we”. Individualism can be a symptom of high accountability and commitment to deliver – personally and collectively. A solution lies in emphasising the extent to which success truly requires collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
  3. Ambition – for self-development and promotion, to be seen at least as ‘first amongst equals” when contributing their best for the team. A desire to outperform, to push ‘self’ to the limit, sometimes gets in the way of stepping aside to let someone else shine. A solution lies in creating a culture that celebrates team results first, and individual achievements within that.
  4. Similarity and homogeneity - Research repeatedly shows that the highest performing teams are not those with the most able or intelligent members, but those with high diversity of thinking – to challenge ideas, disrupt group-think, fuel creativity, innovate. A solution lies in celebrating the difference, ‘mining for conflict’ and encouraging constructive challenge (as well as support).
  5. Lack of trust – that others aren’t “watching my back”. The internal dialogue is: “If I pitch-in with others, who will recognise my personal contribution – if only so no-one accuses me of not pulling my weight?” A solution lies in recognising individual-team-member contributions, even as you focus first on the team result.
  6. Lack of trust – in others’ motives. Nothing undermines trust like “self-interest”. Of course, self-interest is human. However, if colleagues are seen to be more self-interested than interested in others – in what’s good for the business and for the team - collaboration won’t flourish. A solution lies in honestly discussing how it's in our ‘self-interest’ to also look out for the interest of the business/others.
  7. Lack of trust – in colleagues’ ability. The internal dialogue is: “They aren’t up to the task and I don’t want to be tarnished with the same brush”. For colleagues to collaborate, team members must trust that other team members have the knowledge, experience and attitude to make the right contributions – or, as the French say, the “savoir”, “savoir fair”, “savoir être” for success. A solution lies in address skill gaps and better matching people to the requirements of team roles.
  8. Fear of failure – if the required team performance is seen as unattainable. The internal dialogue, especially if the team is underperforming, is “I have to be seen to be hitting the ball out of the park.” A solution is to make a point of learning from ‘failures’. Scientist see ‘failure’ as part of the process of discovery. So to do businesses committed to innovation and continuous improvement.
  9. Excessive corrective feedback. The neurosciences tell us that continuous negative feedback fixates the underperformer on precisely the poor performance and behaviour you wish to eliminate. Instead of building new patterns, the repeatedly corrected individual is likely to stay on the same track, become a broken spirit. A solution is to mindfully limit corrective feedback to mission-critical issues.
  10. Insufficient positive feedback. The same neuroscience research shows that a focus on what is delivering good results reinforces those activities and behaviours and builds new positive patterns of behaviour. A solution that some clients have adopted is to ‘task’ people to give at least x (say 3) positive pieces of feedback a day – and build positive spirals of interaction.

If it is so hard to work in teams, and it is becoming harder as individualism grows, why not call it a day on team-working? Because, quite simply, real teams and high performing teams multiply the effort of its individual members and make for resilient, sustainable and high-performing organisations.  

Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone

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