On Teamwork: Why Bad Teams Exist (Hint: Stuff trickles downhill!)

You’ve heard it before.  “There are no bad teams, just bad leaders.” And if you look around, there are countless examples of exceptional teamwork with groups that have greatly improved with a new leader. The reverse can also be true but difficult to pinpoint the correlation of a bad leader with bad teams.

Former Navy SEAL Commanders, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, learned something about this at a Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training event. During a boat racing challenge, the last-place team instructor and first-place team instructor switched boat crews. You guessed it. The once horrible team now took first place in the race while the former first-place team did okay but not like previous races. What Willink and Babin learned was so powerful, that they became best-selling authors on the topic.

Great team member = great leader, right?

Not so fast! Someone who excels as a group member does not guarantee that they will be be the type of leader needed to foster a positive teamwork environment. Directing teams requires additional skills that may not have been acquired in prior roles. Take for example, Alan Trammel, the Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Gold Glove winner who was once named World Series MVP. Unfortunately, his first season as manager for his former team, the Detroit Tigers, ended with them having the worst record in baseball. After losing 300 games during three seasons with Detroit and a couple of games with the 2014 Arizona Diamondbacks, he went from best MLB player to worst MLB manager.

Of course, there are other examples where the team was already performing poorly such as MLB manager, Tony Pena. He was stuck with one of the worst teams in baseball at the time, the Kansas City Royals. He was let go after 33 games and labeled one of the worst MLB managers. But for now, let’s deal with bad leaders and leave the discussion of bad teams for another time.

But are they really bad ?

As a team leader, let’s assume that you’ve put the right individuals together and in the right roles. You’ve considered their strengths and weaknesses. And you’ve given them direction plus assigned tasks to stretch their potential. You are now expecting high productivity productivity and great teamwork from the group as you look to capitalize on their talents. But after a while, they don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. Now what?

Before pulling the trigger on alleged bad teams, you might want to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Honestly, it’s just good business to first eliminate any possibilities, including yourself, before making any faulty assumptions. This will allow you time to make necessary adjustments to your leadership style. The worst possible move would be taking unfounded positions about what’s going wrong and presenting them to the team. In no time, you may be witness to their ugly side as they turn on you with claims of poor policies, procedures, or guidance, if they don’t jump ship altogether.

Stop the bleeding.

We all know leaders are busy dealing with their own agenda while juggling people and projects. So, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise if they become ineffective on some of the things teams needs most!

So, “check yourself” before jumping down the throat of group members. If you think you’re rock star, see how well you’re leading teamwork efforts.

Do you relate to team members?

Make a connection with individuals. Put yourself in their situation as it may have been awhile, if ever, since you’ve had to deal with some of the issues they’re facing. And because business is changing so rapidly, new and different problems arise that need a leader’s insight on how best to tackle these new challenges.

Are you trustworthy and transparent?

Or, are you hiding behind your own insecurities. Team members need to know that you have their back to feel confident as part of the group. Great managers develop future leaders who are a testament to their leadership skills! Always have the best intentions to foster an environment of trust that the team will thrive in.

Do you keep communication lines open?

This is a no-brainer for all leaders. Having an open door to discussion is important to group success. But the channel needs to be open both ways to insure even minor details are exposed that could otherwise lead to disaster.

Are you giving the team a clear path to effective teamwork?

Are the values and vision clearly stated and understood? Make sure members can navigate under the guidelines so they don’t waste time and money venturing into roadblocks that lead nowhere.

Do you micromanage?

If you want to stay hands-on and not develop a solid team that can work independently, go right ahead! Problem is, you’ll not only stifle their creativity and enthusiasm, you’ll stay chained to the day-to-day stuff preventing your own growth.

Are you providing accessibility to resources?

Give your group what they need to succeed and make available additional resources like learning and development training that will enhance their skills in upcoming projects.

Do you love what you do?

Are you passionate about your life’s work? If not, why expect anyone else to be excited about coming into work and getting things done. Inspire and motivate your team by sharing how their work makes a difference!

Are you a “grinch” at work?  

Do you permeate nasty vibes wherever you go and have that don’t-bother-me-now look? Don’t expect your group to work hard if you have a negative attitude about things from the get-go. Keep a positive attitude to let them know you want them to succeed!

Do you give constructive and honest feedback?

If not, you are part of the problem. It’s like watching someone paint black lines on the pavement and not telling them it’s supposed to be yellow. Your team needs to know what they are doing wrong and what they are doing right even more!

Are you accountable?

Are you answerable for things that are in your control? Team members have a watchful eye on how you handle problems and learn by your example. Make sure you’re spreading the right messages to keep future problems in check.

Stop bad teams in their tracks!

Finally, just be there for the team! They learn from you and need your guidance. Being an absentee leader can create a void and fester bad feelings. If you want what’s important to you to be the team’s guiding light, you’ll need to be part of what’s going on.

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Related articles:

  1. Stop Teamwork Conflict and Kill the Next Big Idea
  2. Great Teamwork Starts with a Dream Team or Does It?
  3. Assessing Teamwork at Work: Testing 1, 2, 3

Posted by Ephraim Arnstein