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3 Common Teamwork Problems and What to Do about Them

Updated: Mar 13


One of the most important skill sets for you as a professional is having the ability to work well with others and, better yet, having the ability to influence others to work well with you. This is teamwork.


Yet, the thing about teamwork is that many leave it up to happenstance and assumptions. Instead, teamwork is intentional and made up of specific, routine activities and behaviors. It looks like this:


High performing individuals and teams feel safe to speak up, don’t worry about what others think of them and recognize each other’s contributions (all while remaining focused on a shared purpose). They define their goals and establish clear roles and processes for the work. Every team will disagree at some point and the best teams handle it productively. They treat disagreement as a turning point to something better. Finally, they consistently exchange feedback and debrief performance to capture both successes and opportunities to correct, improve, or enhance the work.


These are teamwork best practices. Information is widely available in books, journals, podcasts, and articles. You can learn a bit more here in this post: Leading a team? Focus on the 5 Must-Haves. Also, you don’t have to be a boss to learn this stuff. Everyone on the team plays a role in its success and if you want to influence others to work well with you, know the principles of teamwork.


It’s also worth highlighting a few teamwork problems. They’re common and the ones shared here may shine a light on why working with others feels harder than it needs to be. Here are three common problems and advice on what to do.


1. The team is no more than a collection of individual contributors focused on individual agendas.


This is the case when a team doesn’t function like a team at all. Rather, they perform their work in silos. One of the most visible symptoms of this problem is seen in “update meetings”. These meetings are intended to keep the team informed of each other’s work, but it ends up just being a space in time when one person provides an update while the rest of the group multi-tasks. There is little connection made between the work of each individual and how it helps achieve the team’s shared outcome. Update meetings like this perpetuate a lack of teamwork.


This post, How to Refresh a Stale Update Meeting, provides tips on how to improve this situation.


But more so, the remedy is in first discussing what being a team means. That is to work in an interconnected way toward a shared outcome. Then, the team can set expectations for what that looks like. Such as, defining a shared goal (either for a meeting or for the work overall) and then connecting deliverables to that goal. Here is some advice for goal setting: Team Performance: Goals


Teams who know what they are accomplishing are better prepared to work together to achieve it.


2. The team is off-balance. They are too relationship focused.


It can sound cold or heartless to say that a team is too relationship focused. But doing so can set the team up to work ineffectively. Teams that are in this space are those that tend to refer to themselves as “family”. The intention is to convey support and compassion for each other but all too often this makes the team conflict avoidant. Members are fearful of offending each other instead of pushing or debating for the best solution or idea.


Also, not everyone has a warm, fuzzy, supportive definition of family and you can’t fire your family. It can feel pretty “icky” to be called a family member one month and then be laid off the next month.


The remedy here is to refrain from referring to the group as a family and instead, focus on being a team. Still convey care and compassion for each other. There is nothing wrong with that. But be sure to establish clear expectations and processes.  Then, help the team see that conflict can be productive. Get more tips here: Get Better at Conflict, Individually and as a Team.  This is what helps teams get the results they are after.


3. The team gossips and complains.

These behaviors are some of the most toxic and ones that halt productivity, compromise engagement, and degrade workplace satisfaction. The team’s ability to achieve the results they want is stunted.


The remedy here is simple, stop it. Truly. Especially regarding gossip. There is little benefit. For more specific advice, read this: Curb Destructive Gossip for Everyone’s Benefit


If you have a team that complains a lot, there might be some benefit by way of building relatedness within the team. Colleagues appreciate knowing they’re not alone in their stress and frustrations. Talking about, even complaining about it, can be helpful. The ticket here is to limit the complaining to a short amount of time. Tell the team to let it rip for 5 minutes. Maybe 10. Then, get back to work. Here’s more advice: Curb Chronic Complainers.


Strong and effective teamwork can be messy and challenging, to be sure. But it also is achieved with routine and consistent behaviors and activities. When those are in play, everyone’s work experience can improve.


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Until next time!


 

Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.


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