Why Isn’t Your Team Acting Like a Team?

Let’s face it, you’re not really leading a team. You’re just managing a collection of individuals that’s called a team. And, it’s possible that the most frustrating thing about it is that the people on your so-called team are really good individuals.

It seems like it should be a great team; but honestly, not only is it not a good team—there are lots of times when it doesn’t feel like a team at all. What’s the problem? Why is it so hard to get great individuals to mesh together as a great team?

  1. Unclear Expectations – The leader may expect the team to function like a team, but are the roles really clear? There’s a professional courtesy at many levels that says, “I won’t criticize your area, if you won’t say anything about mine.” The leader wants there to be robust dialogue on issues. He or she wants the team members to wear “generic team member” hats at the staff meetings, but it’s not that simple. A voice in a team member’s ear may be saying, “You didn’t get to where you are by being a generic team member. You are here because you are a specialist.” To the leader, “generic team member” makes perfect sense, but to the rest of the team, it feels counterintuitive.
  1. Structure – What if a sports team never practiced together? Would we expect them to have a winning record? Probably not. And yet, management teams often admit that the only time they really meet together is to prepare for the City Council meeting. Council Agenda meetings are critical, but if that’s the only thing that is discussed at your staff meeting, it’s not likely that your team will ever act like a team. It’s the system that’s keeping the team from being a team. Change the structure and you will discover that the team starts coming together.
  1. Bonding – You can have great individuals, but if there’s not a bond within the team, then it’s never going to “feel” like a team. Different things contribute to that bond, but among the most important ingredients are: time, common goals, adversity, and shared experiences. Take away even one of those, and the bond will be weakened.
  1. Trust – The more we demand trust, the more elusive it becomes. If your team needs more trust, step back and think about the root causes. Chances are you’ll see some things like hurt feelings, uncertainty, memories of broken promises, and scars from “The Way We Were!” These are called “Trust Blockers,” and they must be carefully addressed. Trust may not be the problem, but it’s the first thing you should consider.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

2 responses

  1. “Trust may not be the problem, but it’s the first thing you should consider.” You’re right Mike. Without trust, it will be almost impossible, if at all, to build an awesome team. Another thing to consider is competition between members. When we can place the team’s success above individual success, then great things will happen.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Andy.

      So many times an absence of trust is the culprit to a deteriorating team. Once trust is there, you won’t have to worry about things like internal competition.

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