I recently heard from one of my mentors that if you have a dream that you can achieve on your own, then your dream is not big enough.
That is quite a profound statement because it emphasises the importance of having a team in the first place, and it also reinforces that if we have a team, then team members must be aligned, engaged, motivated and work towards a common objective.
When a team is not operating to its full potential, some of the consequences include:
- Less respect for the leader and team members.
- Small issues become bigger issues quickly.
- Increase in team conflict or turmoil which leads to more frustration.
- Tasks take longer to complete because attention is being given to things that are of a lower priority.
- Lower performance from team members which leads to low productivity, less engagement and a decrease in motivation.
When a team is not performing well, continuing to do the same things will not help and can even lead to more serious consequences such as team members refusing to work with each other or even considering leaving the team.
While there may be a lot of things outside the control of the team and its leader when things are not going well, there are things the leader and team members can do to turn things around and get back to operating at a high standard again.
In one of my recent experiences as a training consultant, a team member needed to be trained up in a new role and in a new system. Prior to that team member taking up that role, a temporary employee had been in that role and was trained up by the line manager of the team. While that employee was in the role for only a couple of months, it became very evident that the training that was provided was ineffective or incomplete.
Not only did it cause frustration for the employee, it also caused frustration for the line manager and other team members because they could all see that things were not being done correctly and simple processes were not being followed or understood. I believe that it came down to the level of training that was provided so I raised the issue with the line manager and asked what type and quality of training was provided. My recommendation to the line manager was that the quality of training for the new team member had to be different and better than what had been provided to the temporary employee in order to get a better performance.
As the saying goes, “In order to achieve a new result, we must do things differently.” Thankfully, the quality of training provided was better the second time around and it started to show in the performance of the team member.
When things are off track in a team, it is usually improving the little things, that may seem insignificant, that will make all the difference. Once team members start seeing small but consistent improvements, their focus will start to shift from looking at what’s not going well to what’s now being done to make the team better.
Here are a few things that can be done to improve a team that is not performing well, both from a leader or manager’s perspective, and from a team member’s perspective.
If You’re The Leader or Manager
- Evaluate whether you’re leading by example. Leadership always begins with self. A leader cannot effectively lead others if they cannot lead themselves first. Ask yourself, “How am I showing up as a leader?” and “Am I helping my team members succeed with my actions?”
- Determine what things are within your control. There are many things that may be beyond your control but the majority of things will be well within your control. For the things in your control, how are you addressing or improving them?
- Are you keeping your agreements? If you’ve said you will do something for the team in general or for a particular team member, are you sticking to your commitments? As leaders, when we don’t keep our promises, we quickly lose trust and respect with our team members.
- Are you providing regular feedback directed towards specific outcomes? When things are not going well, attitudes within a team deteriorates very quickly. It is the leader’s responsibility to provide guidance and support to team members who are not at their best and help them refocus on what they’d like to accomplish. Sporadic or inconsistent feedback does not reassure team members that they are being supported through difficult periods.
- Give more praise and show more appreciation. Lack of appreciation is one of the main reasons why people leave teams or jobs. When things are not going well in a team, it is even more important that a leader keeps team members engaged and motivated by focusing on things they are currently doing well. This will result in a win-win situation because team members will want to continue to improve and the leader will have less issues to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
If You’re A Team Member
- Check your attitude. How are you showing up as a team member? Are you contributing to creating a healthy or unhealthy environment? If you know you attitude could be better, decide on a few simple things you can do to turn things around. For example, if others in the team are whining and complaining, perhaps you can help them shift their focus onto things that are going well at present.
- Offer to help your leader or line manager. Sometimes the leader does not have all the answers and may be struggling just like any other team member. In such instances, they will appreciate any offer of support that will not only help them, but make a positive difference to the team. If the leader does not want your help, then that’s okay too — you did your part.
- Lead by example. Just because a team member does not have a leader or manager title, it does not mean they cannot be a leader in their team. Leading by example could include speaking up in team meetings instead of not sharing what is going on for you, or it could mean completing tasks on and before they are meant to be completed.
- Lighten things up. Often when things are not well in a team, people are tense, feel more stressed and are generally under more pressure. During such times, it helps to make the environment friendlier by having fun again. Obviously there has to be a healthy balance between having fun and ensuring what needs to be done actually gets done on time. But when people are more relaxed and happier, that’s when they are more engaged and do better work.
- Stay focused on your objectives. At the end of the day, you’re in a team because there are projects to complete or things to get done. When we are clear on exactly what needs to be done, a lot of noise or distractions just becomes irrelevant. Do what needs to be done and the rest will take care of itself.
The dynamics of a team is so critical to the overall success of the team. When things are not going well in a team, it requires a recommitment to the fundamental values that make up a healthy, high-performing team. The ideas above, if applied, will eliminate frustration and get a team back on track and performing at a level they should be.
Question: What could be another strategy that could be applied to improve a team not functioning well?
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