Reason 5

20151104_144751They Generate Tons of Extra Work for the Team Leader

This is a classic problem faced by teams with little experience in operating effectively or by teams formed simply because the organization has decreed that teams are the way to go and everyone must be on some team or another. Other common situations where this reason regularly occurs are:

  • ‘Improvement’ teams, employee ‘participation’ teams, employee ‘suggestion’ teams and other such teams with vague terms meant to make things better.
  • Health and safety teams and committees.
  • Teams formed to keep unions from getting a foothold.
  • More junior teams where everyone on the team reports to the team leader.

Whatever the case the result is the same. The team is put together with some vague idea that they have to improve something and the first meeting is scheduled. Everyone arrives bursting to express their wonderful ideas for improvement. The team leader (often the direct manager) notices that everyone is looking right at him or her as one idea after another is enthusiastically put on the table.  Accustomed to being the local heroine or hero, the team leader accepts each idea as valid and necessary with a growing sense of dread. Leaving the meeting with an additional workload heavy enough to cause a hernia, the team leader works like a bandit to get all these ideas off the ground. By the next meeting about a quarter of the ideas have been acted on. Everyone is righteously indignant that three quarters of the ideas are still on the ‘to do’ list. This continues for about four meetings and then something happens to cause meetings to be delayed, rescheduled or just cancelled. And why not?  Would YOU want to go to meetings where you ended up with more work you couldn’t get done and then have a convenient forum for everyone to point out how inadequate you are???

This sort of situation can kill interest in teamwork indefinitely and typically spills over in negativity about management in general. It simply should not happen. EVERYONE on a team should be ACTIVELY doing something to help the team achieve its goals. If they’re not, then your team is carrying dead weight which it doesn’t need. There are three common reasons why team members don’t actively contribute to a goal:

  1. They haven’t been asked to.
  2. They don’t want to.
  3. They don’t have the power to.

The first two can be dealt with simply. Ask them – that’s how you find out if they want to. If they don’t want to then get them off the team, you don’t need them.  The third reason is more complex. The lack of power to do something active towards accomplishing a goal is a problem only solved by those that allocate power in an organization; management. At least 95% of the activity necessary to accomplish team goals occurs outside the team meeting. If the team is to accomplish anything management must be prepared to give team members the resources (time and money) to do things between meetings. Oh- oh, now the labor budget is screwed up, or heaven forbid the capital budget. Well, if you want effective teams it’s going to cost you, operationally, no way around it. If management is not willing to pay for effectiveness, it doesn’t happen. That’s why it’s so crucial to have teams well focused against things that matter. Things that matter get resources.

So decide up front whether this team has the power to be effective or not. If not, then you’re better off doing nothing. To push ahead without the power to be effective will just aggravate people.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. Many teams exist or get formed without an understanding of the resources they might need to be effective. What have you done in a situation when it becomes clear that the resources needed will not be available for the team to be successful?
  2. Have you experienced this reason and if so what happened?
  3. If you have been a team leader in this situation, what did you do?
  4. When resources are not available for a team to be successful does it mean what the team is focusing on is not important to management?

2 Responses

  1. I like this post … it’s important because of the amount of resources – time, energy, people, materials – that are wasted in this frustrating situation and that it happens all too often. And at the end, you are often left wondering if it was simply a make work project because all the waste doesn’t seem to matter. Except when it does; and when it really does matter it’s almost always the team leader who is held 100% accountable. There are very few organizations that measure ‘team’ performance. The result is that, when it is just not working, it is the leader’s performance that is measured … very few consequences for those team members who opt out when it becomes clear that they are individually ‘better off doing nothing’.

    • Bonnie, thanks for the post! I think your point about measurement is very relevant here. People will often talk about how important teams are in organizations but as you note, the actual performance of the team is not measured in any meaningful way.

      A team leader can try every ‘technique’ in the book to create equal distribution of accountability, when the real issue tends to be one of power. And if the team does not have the power to act and fails, it will be the leader who pays. He or she pays because they are the person being measured on the teams success.

      It would be interesting to see what might happen in terms of accountability if there actually was more and better, real team measures.


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