Whether a sole proprietor or a cog in a large enterprise, at some point everyone is required to work with a team. So what is the difference between teams that consistently perform and teams that never seem to get ‘er done? I’ve identified four reasons teams fail.
Lack of Clearly Defined Objectives
Without clearly defined objectives much energy is often wasted in simply trying to understand what the team is being asked to do. Deliverables should be explicitly clear and not contradictory. This does not mean that every detail has to be spelled out, but the deliverables should be defined clearly enough that there is no subjectivity to whether or not the team accomplished its task. Often management or a group outside the work group believes it has communicated its needs effectively only to find out later that what was said and what was heard were very different.
The Wrong Motivators
In addition to murky objectives, wrong motivators can also cause teams to fail. In this case, the team thinks they are on the proper path because they are progressing based upon the performance metrics being measured. However, as Kerr pointed out in his famous 1975 article, reward systems don’t always align with the desired outcome. Frequently management is also deluded into thinking things are progressing nicely towards the goal. After all, the team is “hitting the numbers”. However, because of this gap between what is being rewarded and the true desired outcome, teams will miss the mark.
Low Emotional IQ
Another reason teams can fail to perform is low emotional IQ. Emotional IQ is the ability to recognize our own perceptions and emotions and understand the same in others. Our educational system and most workplace training tend to focus on technical skills and knowledge. While most people are aware that their emotions and perceptions affect how they interact with others, many have never been given the tools to overcome their own tendencies and work with the personalities of others. People will often simply accept that they are incompatible with another team member or that the other person is simply irrational.
Lack of Leadership
Almost all of the above issues can be summed up in lack of good leadership. A good leader will set clearly defined goals and have metrics properly aligned with those goals. A good leader will have a well developed emotional IQ and know how to coach his or her team through personality issues and differing opinions.
To avoid these pitfalls, continuously invest in building your leadership skills. Make sure objectives are being properly understood by asking follow up questions that give insight into understanding. Examine the motivators in place as incentives for success to make sure they encourage behaviors that will result in the desired outcome. Finally, invest in growing your own emotional IQ and understanding of organizational behavior.
If I’ve missed something, let me know.
 On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B. Steven Kerr. Academy of Management Journal (pre-1986); Dec 1975