Why Teams Suck Wind and Die

Company X does all of the expected 'right things' to build a great team and company. They spend high-end dollars to lure, recruit and then land what they perceive to be the best people to join their company -- sometimes from anywhere in the world. Immediately thereafter, these new employees are armed with expensive training from leading vendor companies on current pertinent subjects. Public relation activities occur, awards and certifications are pursued and achieved, and a reputation for greatness is created in the marketplace. These new people are put onto the teams most needing high caliber, well-trained individuals in order to rock and roll and embellish the company's greatness. The kicker? They don't rock and roll. In fact, they come off as non-union roadies who are allegedly part of the team, rarely seen, nor heard from when needed -- and when they are, their value is questionable. Money down the drain is it? Where did things go wrong? Was it a poor hire? Was it poor training? Wrong project perhaps? What?


First and foremost, look at the leadership. Any team with poor leader will eventually go stale and die due to missing energy, vision, morality, integrity, and trust in the leadership. People have to want to work for the people to whom they answer. If they don't, you have nothing but a collection of cogs showing up for their paycheck. Many leaders, to the loss of themselves, their teams and their companies, fail to recognize and understand their role and impact to team productivity. Leadership is not management -- either you have vision and pro-actively lead people to new places with your energy, inspiration and camaraderie, or you are a maintainer and manager of existing things created by someone else. Either you lead, or you maintain.

If your leader is inspiring and you like the direction the leader is heading, or you just plain believe your leader is straight up and you trust him or her, then you have the right foundation for building a world class team -- first you must trust the leadership. The teams have to believe that the person they are following has vision, morality, integrity, and the best interest of the company and teams in mind. When teams trust leadership, they are foundationally equipped to rock the world. Teams rock as a reflection of their opinions of leadership.

On the other hand, if you think your leader is a flake, idiot or you basically just don't respect him or her, should you choose it this will impact your attitude and outlook on life, your productivity and your contribution to the team. In fact, an absence of respect will eventually contribute to individualism and subsequently...chaos. As individualism leads to chaos, do not overlook the impact that one or more negative attitude type individuals may have on a team. In the event you have not given thought to how leadership and attitude impacts team mates, think through it a bit. Study the leadership of any team and you'll see into the future of that team.


What do we say here? People with a poor or non-existent work ethic will always suck wind until they choose otherwise. People with poor attitudes who only see through a glass-half-full lens will always suck the wind out of a good team. Accountability, responsibility, transparency, integrity and commitment aren't just words in the dictionary -- they are characteristics of good people, and in particular, good team-mates. And creativity, positivism, other-centeredness and the pursuit of knowledge are the added strengths that differentiate the teams experienced by most companies and teams composed of rock-stars.

Companies can hire from the best colleges and other perceived great companies and still fail to build the team with good people. Let's face it - it is pretty tough to create great teams.

Teams fail because someone chooses self-centeredness rather than other-centeredness. Teams fail because someone chooses mediocrity over excellence. Teams fail because someone chooses to focus on the reason why something cannot be done, rather than the reasons it can. And teams fails because someone chooses to not only see, but communicate the negative in everything that life has to offer, rather than not only seeing the positive, but being positive as well.

Teams succeed and fail due to the choices of individuals.

What To Do

In both cases of poor leadership and poor teaming, the solution is the same -- sit down and talk through the situation with whomever it is you need to confront. This doesn't need to be a high ceremony, high impact argumentative confrontation, but rather one where you simply state what you are thinking and seek to find a mutual resolution.

In the case of having a poor leader, sit down with this person and just plain tell them that you are struggling with motivation, attitude. or commitment as a result of not believing the leader has vision, integrity or whatever the problem is perceived to be. Pending your ability to constructively communicate a problem statement, said leader will show what kind of person they are immediately by how they react. If they disregard the information and turn the conversation on you, one possibility is that they are not mature enough to lead due to expending most of their energy defending their self-image to themselves. Conversely, if they take it in, ask for examples and earnestly and constructively analyze the situation for nuggets of gold it may suggest they are analytical and desirous of understanding and addressing fact. What is most important in this conversation with your upline leadership is discovering how they process potentially distasteful information - emotionally or analytically - and what they do with it thereafter. This leader's reaction may give you insight into your future under this person's leadership. If it appears change will happen, you're likely on the right team. If it appears change has no hope (and you yourself are not inherently negative), perhaps you should move on to another situation with higher success probability.

In the case of having a poor team mate...same conversation. Being kind, direct and honest is the shortest distance between dissatisfaction and resolution. And just as your transparency will bring out the true character of the aforementioned leader, so will it be with the team mate. Positive, honest reaction suggests a willingness to be transparent, understand and resolve the items in question; negativity, defensiveness or an unwillingness to acknowledge your words and feelings suggests that your assessment of this person and situation may be correct. Either way, learning how this person processes distasteful data will provide insight into how he/she will or will not be a productive team member into the future. If this person chooses the low road, it will be up to you to determine your next steps.

Closing Thought

And why, after all that schooling, training and effort put forth, does that team suck wind and look like it will die? It is someone's attitude, which turned into someone else's attitude, which then permeated the team to the point that it no longer looks like a team, but a collection of co-located people. Expensive training, great schools and great companies all have one thing in common - they are only as good as each individual composing the whole first chooses to become.

You, as an individual contributor to a team, have a choice to make - what will your team become as a result of your choices?

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