Human Resources

Is Your Team Sick? There Are Prescriptions to Remedy It

By Mario Moussa, PhD, Derek Newberry, PhD, and Madeline Boyer

Every workplace has its share of ills, but there are always opportunities to treat these failings in teamwork. Today and tomorrow we present an article by Dr. Mario Moussa, Dr. Derek Newberry, and Madeline Boyer, authors of Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance, on five of the most damaging teamwork ills and the prescriptions to remedy them.

Twisting your features into a mask of pain, you dig your heels into the soft grass. A rope tears into your palms. A clear, tiny voice speaks to you amid the many confused thoughts swirling in your head: “So-o-o-o … What am I learning from this experience?”

Well, if you’re like many who have done this exercise at a corporate retreat, you should be learning about teamwork. As others join you, the collective rope-pulling effort seems to demonstrate the point. Little by little, the boulder starts moving until it nudges over the 30-foot mark. Cheers erupt. But you notice something.

With each additional person who contributes to the effort, the boulder moves faster, but not as fast as you would have imagined. By the time the tenth person steps up, you feel the group is barely pulling harder than when it was only six, even though everyone seems to be working hard.

This well-documented phenomenon, social loafing, is an issue that plagues any group of individuals working together—but it isn’t the only one. Knowing what to look out for can be half the battle. Following are the biggest teamwork ills and some prescriptions to help you avoid them.

1. Overemphasizing Abstract Goals

People like to talk about transcendent goals for a reason. Steve Jobs was known for his inspiring keynote talks that emphasized changing the world. Such goals are uplifting and can make work feel more meaningful.

But when teams overestimate the importance of inspiring vision when setting goals for their team, they risk not paying enough attention to aligning personal priorities with those bigger goals. If team members don’t understand “What’s in it for me?,” it can be hard for them to commit to working toward team goals.

Teamwork Rx: Make sure that big, collective goals align with small, personal commitments that drive performance.

2. Underemphasizing Roles

Many teams think that merely getting the right talent in play is all that it takes for a team to be successful. Research has shown, though, that you need clear structure and well-defined interdependent roles in order to best leverage the strengths of those on your team. Contrast the 2004 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Dream Team’s disappointing performance to the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors’ expert management of team roles.

Teamwork Rx: Well-structured teams generally outperform those teams with more raw talent—strength, skill, or IQ. Take time to find the roles and structure that make sense for your team.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, Moussa, Newberry, and Boyer share three more teamwork ills and the prescriptions for curing them.