How to Destroy Teams and Become Losers
Terrible teams are easy; great teams rare.
Great teams do two things. First, people working together achieve things individuals can’t; they achieve more together. Second,
Teams that work – work at working together.
I was a good player on my high school basketball team, not great. We always competed with each other for playing time and starting positions. It was the ultimate performance-based environment.
We shared passion to win and we frequently did. We won our way to the elite eight and the final four my junior and senior years, respectively. Even though I wasn’t the best player, I was the captain my senior year.
Begrudging and belittling the achievements
of others destroys teams.
Too much competition within teams cripples competitive advantage. Great teammates celebrate each other’s success. If you outplayed me I was glad for the team and you. But, your great play inspired me to work my butt off.
Your best brings out my best.
Never let their best bring out your worst.
Internal competition works when:
- Team success is more important than individual success.
- Teammates push each other.
- Everyone’s success is celebrated.
Tell me how you respond to the success of others and I’ll tell you if you’re a great team player.
Internal competition goes bad when:
- Teammates begrudge and belittle the achievements of others.
- Coaches/leaders play favorites.
- Saboteurs hinder, undermine, and undercut the play of others.
Great teammates celebrate each other’s success.
*5 reasons teams blow up:
- No alignment of goals.
- No senses of ownership.
- Rigid application of the lessons of the past.
- Leadership’s unwillingness to eliminate bad performers.
- Lack of respect and trust.
*Five of the ten qualities of bad teams from, “Sharing the Sandbox,” by Dean Brenner.
What makes teams work?
What makes teams fail?
Read what others are saying about blowing up teams on the Leadership Freak Facebook page.
All of those listed are very real reasons teams blow up. implode and fall apart. And, I think they are all often intertwined and inter-related.
If the leader can’t get the poor performers or bad eggs under control, anything the team tries to accomplish will be undermined and ultimately fail. And the reason they cannot usually get these people to align with the project is lack of respect. And if you people are not demonstrating respect for you, who are you leading?
If the team members or the organization are stuck in the past, and refuse to come into the present, eventually the team and the organization will sink under the weight of “that’s how we’ve always done it.”
Additially, I rthink that people who to have too much ownership and are not willing to relinquish any of their control will sabotage and destroy even the best well-meaning leader, innovation and team spirit.
Thank you Martina.
I feel real fire and passion in your contribution today.
I wonder how transparency and openness plays into this conversation. Everyone one on the team must openly support the team and it’s members. Anyone reluctant needs to go. If they can’t support the others they aren’t part of the team in the first place. They are already defectors, even if they are physically present.
It’s impossible to overvalue the importance of shared goals. In the organizational context, vision and goals that are used to recruit good people, encourage them toward excellence on behalf of the client or customer, and retain them through the sheer exhilaration of making progress toward achieving them.
Thank you Pete.
Great piece, Dan. And so +true+. Here’s one for professional services firm members and those in Financial Services:
Over in the UK some firms profited big in the 2000s from Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) conversions [I won’t go into the tax/regulatory benefits/costs of being an LLP partner]; but I’ve yet to understand why Professional Services firms have not sought to create project-specific or client-group-specific LLPs for their own people: apply the theory to their own organisations!
It’d be complex, yes: multiple LLPs in a pyramid made of LLP circles. But the guys who rise to partnership (20th century style) aren’t really +so+ much better than their peers that they should not consider it; many remember they were merely willing (or able) to sacrifice family or other commitments at key times; or hung out at the right bar or made/met the right friend/contact at the right time. Why disillusion the rest of their hard-working team by not sharing the profits and losses of partnership with those willing to invest in and share the burden?
In that respect, why not look at the attitude to risk of certain banks in the days when the risk was personal (because those banks were formed as partnerships) and ask: is that the attitude my audit, etc managers, senior managers and directors need? and do I want them to be investing (personally) in my business too? Do I want consultants to have that attitude too, so they always keep +all+ clients’ needs in mind?
When you’ve asked those questions, pop back to ask yourself whether the people in your team already +have+ been investing in their partnership? How many relationships have they brought to your firm? Via new client leads? Via key commercial or other key information/intelligence they’ve picked up from their, personal, contacts? Via charitable/reputational works they undertake out of business hours; but that boost your brand because others know they are working for you during business hours (“Dan does great work for our church; he works for Deloitte; guess that’s the kind of thing [say] Deloitte people do.”)?
This has been long, Dan, and I’m grateful for your patience. I guess what I’m getting at is that “risk and reward relationships” aside, there’s a great deal of invisible investment in intangibles (e.g. goodwill and IP) being made by many team-players in many teams. S. Covey-wise: sometimes the biggest investors are the ones among the golden-egg-laying geese who have a great track record and who work hard to keep up the team spirit – even if, at times when personal, family or other matters have quite rightly taken greater priority, they have laid a few less eggs than the others!
Thank you Ben.
I hear you saying, among other things, the importance affirming each member on the team.
Perhaps there’s a difference between affirming and performance. Not all perform the same but all should be affirmed? How are we showing people they matter.
I wasn’t the highest scoring player on the team but the team scored more when I played. Additionally, some players score while others defend. All can be affirmed for the roles they play even as we acknowledge high individual performance.
Dan, you were a pivote! (see Lf post, when talent defeats) 😉
And still are!!
It just keeps getting deeper!
Great teams have 3 things in common: 1st they Focus on the Outcome, 2nd, They spontaneously collaborate, and 3rd, no matter where they go and no matter what they are doing after that; they will always take the call from a member of that team.
Thank you Larry.
Always great to see you’ve stopped in. Love your insights, especially #3. Very practical.
Hello Dan, we should not be surprised that so many teams in business are less successful than the teams or the employers want them to be.
Few team members are selected to be on a team for their ability and willingness to be effective team members. Businesses hire the best and the brightest, i.e., the best individual contributors, and then bemoan the fact that their teams are less than they should be and sometimes dysfunctional, especially management teams.
Select the right team members and the team will be far more successful than if we assign even one wrong team member.
Thank you Robert.
Great teams begin with selecting the right members. Kaching!
Can you elaborate a little on “Rigid application of the lessons of the past” from the 5 Reasons Teams Blow Up? I grasped the other ones, but didn’t follow this one. Thanks!
Thank you Jacob.
Great question. In Brenner’s book “Sharing the Sandbox” he emphasizes the dynamic nature of teams. New players change team dynamics. Also, putting the same players together for another project doesn’t guaranteeing they’ll succeed like before. People change, projects change, circumstances change…expect team dynamics to change.
What you learned in the past may not apply because things are different now. I thought it was an insightful observation.
Hope that’s useful.
To see if I’m understanding, it would be like a basketball coach who has althetic wing players trying to pound the ball inside or a coach who has big guys trying to shoot threes or full-court press because that is “his” system or what he’s done in the past. Instead, he should evaluate the team for what it is and not get stuck doing something just because it worked in the past.
Am I following?
I think your last sentence nailed it. YOu might want to pick up a copy of the book. I found it very useful.
Camelot or Kismet– when you have an aligned team with the whole greater than the sum, you may not exactly know how rare that is until afterwards. If you even chance to think/feel that you have something different and positive going on…bet you do, cherish it, nourish it, grow it as long as you can. While Camelot may not sustain, the foundations of it can and do.
I choose to focus on what makes teams work…because we do know what makes them fail. Before going into what works…it is interesting that we have all sorts of problem focused skill sets–“corrective action”, root cause analysis (reactive to a problem) and FMEA (failure mode & effects analysis-proactive to prevent a problem. Many businesses allocate precious resources and time to routinely conduct a FMEA annually…
…yet we do not appear to have SMEA–success mode and effects analysis. A methodical, inductive approach with criticality to identify potential successes, ways to enhance strengths, building a positive team that collectively senses/sees beyond what is…
Dan, spot on post about what it takes…working at working together, interwoven commitment, agreement to call each other out (both positively and negatively) when we are doing more than anticipated and succeeding or not working up to what we expect. Making time to celebrate the little learning steps each other (and the group) has taken. Developing healthy rituals that bond through the challenging times. Knowing and respecting that at any given time one of the team may/will step up and lead and we encourage that. When what we believe, what we hold dearest is what we do, can be magic, can be Camelot.
Thank you Doc.
I have to post on making teams work. I agree…a great team experience is like no other.
One thing that stands out to me in your contribution is rituals… seems like its something missing in the teams I work with and work on…
As usual, another great post, Dan.
In our deliveries, we often ask, “What made the exercise engaging and motivating” and the table-generated lists are right in alignment with your discussion bullets.
When we ask, “What makes the workplace demotivating,” the same kind of lists.
And when we ask, “What could you and the organization do differently?,” the responses are not at all surprising. People KNOW what to do differently, but they just choose not to do it because of organizational systemics in most instances.
Collaboration and engagement and a bit of self-determination, plus peer pressure / support can often help make some good shifts in how things are accomplished.
We can do a much better job with alignment, for sure.
Another fabulous (and true) post here! Teams fail when fear (of failure, humiliation, “being caught,”) takes precedence over reinforcement of the behaviors that make teams work well: encouraging the creative thinking (that does sometimes fail); honoring everyone for being the adult they are (except obviously in cases of true dysfunction); transparency). Going to work should be more of a merry go round – everyone traveling the same path smoothly (even though some are up and some are down simultaneously) instead of an amusement park shooting gallery — pop up first and take a risk, and you’ll get a spray of water in your face that’ll knock you right down. Carnival analogy over now. 🙂
Liked the post and how the team can work successfully with healthy competition by taking the support of individual members. The team needs to look at a common goal while putting in their best performance singularly and collectively.
The biggest challenge comes when you need to recognize and reward the select ones. One has to be careful if there is no fairness in recognition while evaluating individual performance. Rewards should be eqiually be distributed or otherwise we are creating a sense of differentiation and breaking the team spirit.
I have experienced the best performing team losing their enthusiasm and the spirit once they have learnt that there is a variation in their increments/incentives for a common goal achieved at the organization level. Recognition in terms of picking up the best contributors for a public praise is okay but when it comes to distribution of monetary rewards, it should be equal for all.
All will depend on the coach/team leader’s ability to drive the force and inspire them to put in their best. The performing team members always get satisfied when they are collectively appreciated and rewarded with equality. Never ever differentiate or compare amongst members which could ruin all the past efforts of developing them to perform the best with individual and collective contributions taking help of each other.
I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. Always great stuff, so thanks for that.
This post just gets all over me. Not because we’re not in agreement; instead, because I simply never see these principles being properly implemented. In my last job, we’d have a professional development instructor take us through training at least twice every year. He would teach these exact principles, but we could never use what we learned because management (consisting of one clueless person) would always pretend, for the instructor, as though she’d been using these principles all along. Then the instructor would leave, the manager would say that she hoped we all learned a little something, and things would go back to being as chaotic as always.
I am now a member of management for another company. And again none of these principles are even being considered.
In fact, members of management only meet once per year. We all have different ideas, and we all give conflicting instructions to our guys in the field.
You know, I like what you said about weeding out the non-performers, but I say – and I suspect you’d agree – that that should wait until the team is functioning properly as a team. No sense trying to guess who’s performing poorly when, due to chaos, anyone would seem to fit that description.
All the points are excellent. I agree that it is easy to destroy team but difficult to make good team. Besides points covered, I specifically focus on trust and respect factor. I think they play major or even deciding role in either building or breaking the team. Absence of respect and trust is absence of team. Leaders should create culture of trust where each team should willingly own the purpose.Leaders should set example that team should follow. It means team is just a collection of people if they are unable to connect with leader and purpose.
I think connectivity with people and purpose makes makes teams work. And absence of connectivity with purpose and people team may fall. Any one is not enough. For example, if members are connected with the purpose and not connected with the team member, it is not expected to achieve the goal effectively. So, connection with people and purpose make team sustainable and effective.
I am in a sorority and I will definitely be sharing this with my sisters. This is wonderful advice in any team environment. Thank you!
Ultimately, the question that distinguishes the best teams is…can your ego survive another’s success?