Posted in practice on November 15, 2016 12:41 pm EST

3 Common Pitfalls That Derail Healthy Teams ...

... and how to get back on track. These tips can help your practice and your client relations.

Artwork copyright Danomyte.











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TAGS: business, collaboration, profitability,


By Cathy Hutchison

When it comes to healthy teams, are you tired of the oft-recycled advice about trust, chemistry and teamwork that doesn’t serve you in the face of a real problem? Here are three of the “real” issues that teams encounter with proven advice on how to deal with them.

Challenge #1: Navigating Change

Status quo rarely creates friction. In fact, a stagnated team causes few problems. But introduce change into that mix and suddenly all the personalities come out. What about your team? Are they adaptable or does everyone go all "who moved my cheese?"

There are two strategies that are highly effective in helping teams navigate a shift:


Chip and Dan Heath in their book, "Made to Stick," write: “How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless.”

Too often we understand our direction and message, but polish it into abstractness. Gordon Blocker of the Table Group writes, “Clarity is meant for easy consumption, conversation, and everyday use.”

We all know that communication is key in navigating change, but clarity takes design and practice. Heath reminds us, “To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize.” Be clear in what your team stands for, what mission you want to accomplish, and what each person’s role is in serving that mission. Then, over-communicate. You will be tired of your message long before it has fully permeated your team.


Remember in the movie, "The Princess Bride," when the Dread Pirate Roberts drinks the poisoned cup, yet it is Vizzini who dies? He explains to Buttercup, “They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.”

It is possible to inoculate your team to disruption through constant exposure to small changes in order to prevent turf-building and stagnation. Rearranging or updating things in an office, shifting scheduled meetings, test driving new methodologies, and allowing team members to initiate improvements can create fluidity that helps teams respond well when they need to adapt.

Challenge #2: Dealing with Poor Performers

There is nothing quite so discouraging as having a team member that you can’t throw a ball to because you know they can’t catch it.

Russell J. White, in his article “Pull the Plug on Poor Performance,” writes, “Poor performers frequently deliver the ‘Iceberg Effect,’ where only the tip of their negative impact is seen by managers. The volume of their negative impact, from eroding morale and work ethics of fellow employees to unnoticed mistakes to job duties not being performed that are now being done by fellow employees to keep the flow of work moving, slips by without notice. The impact is significant. The other implication to the manager who allows this to continue is loss of respect from the other employees he manages.”

Why do we ignore poor performers? Well, mostly because we hate the conflict. The challenge is that the cost is high when we refuse to "man up."


When you have to confront (or dismiss) a poor performer, there are volumes of advice, but the simple one is to be to-the-point without waffling. Jodi Glickman, author of "Great on the Job," suggests you begin by saying, “I have some bad news for you. Today is your last day here.” Then state the reason for termination in one simple sentence. “Be transparent,” she says. “We’ve let you go because you didn’t meet your sales targets,” or “You’ve not been a good cultural fit here.” It’s important to use the past tense because it communicates resolve and finality.


Mary Shapiro, author of the "HBR Guide to Leading Teams" shares in her HBR podcast interview, “I think most team leaders tend to spend most of their time thinking about what those task competencies are, because obviously, you’ve got to get the task done, so you need people that can do that well. But what they don’t tend to do is think about, who are people that play well together? And whether you call it emotional intelligence or all the different kind of language that’s being kind of bantered about today, but it fundamentally comes down to who are people that have skills to collaborate, negotiate, communicate well, handle conflict well, and so really thinking about members populating your team with people that can do those skills as well.”

There is an opportunity cost to poor performers. Seek those who can not only do the job, but who can also benefit the team, then protect those people from having their energy tanked by a teammate who can’t catch a ball.

Challenge #3: Managing Groupthink

Have you ever had a client with an “ignored if not invented here” attitude toward new ideas?

Have you ever had a client with an “ignored if not invented here” attitude toward new ideas? This attitude is especially common with clients who have been wildly successful. They protect the groupthink in the name of culture and close themselves off to outside ideas.

What if it isn’t just your clients? Have you taken a look at the groupthink in your own organization?

Groupthink is a two-edged sword. On the positive side, it creates alignment among people. It prevents conflict and facilitates quick decisions. But on the negative side it creates dysfunction and over time can extinguish the very team it once protected. Group pressures lead to faulty decisions through a lack of critical thinking.


Usually when we talk about diversity in the workplace it is focused on creating fairness in employment among different populations. Deloitte Consulting is expanding this definition to focus on diversity of thought. “The implication of this new frontier in diversity is that leaders and organizations must let go of the idea that there is ‘one right way’ and instead focus on creating a learning culture where people feel accepted, are comfortable contributing ideas, and actively seek to learn from each other.”

As we hire for people who solve problems in different ways and get better at structuring meetings so that people are encouraged to share different views, the dialog can expand allowing us to get to better solutions.


In their article "Fooled by Experience," authors Emre Soyer and Robin Hogarth highlight this idea: “One issue is that we tend to search for and use evidence that confirms our beliefs and hypotheses, and we gloss over or ignore information that contradicts them—an exercise of selectively building and interpreting experience known as the confirmation bias.” They go on to note, “If analysts cherry-pick information to suit managers’ expectations, managers will be reassured about their decisions and see no need to improve them. And once misleading insights are data-approved, they are even harder to challenge.”

Whether we are leaders with authority or simply people who work with our peers, we all have the ability to help our teams engage the challenges of change, poor performers and groupthink. We simply have to be aware of the pitfalls. Then have the courage to take the steps to get back on track.



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