5 problems that occur when organisations ignore the science of teams

3 minute read

5 problems that occur when organisations ignore the science of teams-878389-edited

Team management is intimidating. Not knowing how to bring together the right mix of leaders, talent and developmental resources to steer teams towards success can leave you feeling lost.

But by executing a thorough, scientifically-validated ‘team development’ process, you can patch up the weaknesses that come with the territory, while laying the foundation for great teamwork to happen.

In this blog, we share insights from Darren Overfield and Robert Kaiser, both experts in helping organisations get the most out of teams via development, coaching, and assessment. Following are 5 big errors leaders often make in team development...errors that come from ignoring team science. 


Problem #1 - Poorly measuring team success.


It’s tempting to only look at big-picture work outcomes as the real measure of team success. But this is a mistaken approach.

Appraisals solely based on such things as higher profits or more sales opportunities skip over so many other fundamentals of thriving teams. According to research, team performance is better evaluated across three key areas: quality of output, whole team improvement, and the personal growth of each member.

This is the 'it, we, I' approach advocated by Darren and Robert. By judging your team’s standing in all of these areas, you can see whether it’s set for success, and whether it can serve as a good paradigm for future collaborative groups.


Problem #2 – Rewarding individuals rather than the team as a unit.


In the business world, individuals rule. CEOs of global corporations rise to celebrity status. This attitude trickles down to policies on individual salaries, raises and promotions, and unfortunately, hurts team dynamics.

Wherever individuals take all the spoils, personal ambition is free to undercut team success, and resource-sharing can be hindered. But when purpose-bound work groups are rewarded holistically, similar to how certain individuals sometimes are, an environment is created in which teams can really flourish.


Problem #3 – Coaching individuals instead of teams.

Coaching for individual employees is very valuable. But by neglecting team coaching, leaders miss out on a crucial aspect of team success.

This stems from the fact that teams aren’t just collections of people. They’re newly-born, living, breathing entities. As such, team coaching is important to have, and it should be tailored to the unique processes and functions that are characteristic of teams.

It’s often key to bring in expert team coaches from outside. While internal leaders can hold meetings to address obvious issues, an expert outsider can often identify tricky blind spots.


Problem #4 – Failing to create behavioural norms and expectations.

‘Playing well with others’ is a common motif of successful teams. But what does that mean?
How should that translate to day-to-day interactions? How will members know if they or their colleagues are crossing the line? And how do you prevent the whole group from going off the rails as a result?

To satisfy all of these questions, establish norms for the team and lay very clear ground rules from the beginning. This will help clarify personal roles, the chain of command, and which modes of communication are acceptable.

Darren and Robert note that ‘there is an accountability crisis’ among team managers. Leaders must be willing, despite personal discomfort, to enforce the rules so that team progress isn’t hindered.


Problem #5 – Confusing what comes first: ‘getting along’ or team success.

It’s a chicken-or-egg scenario: Does interpersonal comfort lead to a successful teamwork ethic, or is it the other way around? While team members’ social comfort with each other can enhance cohesiveness, it’s not what matters most.

Rather, Darren and Robert have identified some things that are even more essential, namely, a defined team structure, clarity of purpose, and stable membership. Three more reinforcing attributes help ensure success: limited membership, meaningful assigned work and clear rules.

Instead of relying on team-building exercises or social functions to make teams more productive, get the fundamentals right. Then, team members will likely ‘get along’ better.

Teams can be derailed with the wrong view of development. It’s important to look at tried-and-true ways of assessing and enhancing team performance, and not just lean on instinct. Avoid the above errors, rely on what team science says, and you’ll develop teams that produce sustainable, satisfying results.