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Why Teams Fail

Many articles have been written about how high performing teams are formed.

My personal favourite is the “PERFORM” model, which is about:-
PURPOSE – high-performing teams share a strong sense of purpose
EMPOWERMENT – members collectively have a sense of power and feel that they have the necessary skills and resources to get things done
RELATIONSHIP – members have strong relationships, open and honest communication, and accept leaders’ moderation of conflicts
FLEXIBILITY – Individuals in the team share responsibility for leadership in a given situation and can fulfill different tasks that the team need to move forward
OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE – there is evidence that tasks are accomplished quickly and effectively through use of problem-solving skills and the use of each others’ differences in perspective
RECOGNITION – members respect and appreciate the membership of others and individual and collective accomplishments are frequently recognised by each other and by the leaders
MORALE – members feel pride and excitement about membership and confidence is strong.
On the other hand, less is written about why teams fail. Indeed, you can say that teams fail because they do not possess all of the above 7 characteristics, and you would be right. However team failures are often caused, not by lacking in positive traits but more by possessing negative behaviours.

In my work as a consultant I have found that the main reasons why teams fail fall into 5 categories and they are:-

The lack of a defined charter that describes the team’s purpose and how it will work together. This is more than merely the lack of purpose. This is about the lack of what it can and cannot do, and is often a sign that the powers above have not properly authorised the team to carry out its work.
The lack of resources to do their job. This often includes time, and no matter how committed a team is, they need the appropriate amount of time to work.
The above leads to lack of planning. While high-performing teams are indeed flexible, even the best teams need to agree on a plan forward, right foot or left foot first? Without time, there is usually no plan, and without a plan, even the best teams can only falter.
Lack of training at individual and team levels in skills that they need to work on the task and in skills required to work together. This often leads to the lack of effective leadership and the ability to deal with conflict. Without appropriate skills team members are unable to distinguish between tasks they are individually or mutually responsible for, and they become a group that work individually rather then together.
The lack of corporate norms that build innovation, creativity and excellence. This is the lack of a general corporate culture that encourages “trying” and instead punishes “failure”.
I think you can see the gist of what I am saying. While high-performing teams do indeed need positive characteristics, without the support of the organisation in providing the team with authority, resources and appropriate norms, any team, no matter how well led or high performing, will become frustrated and fail.

I’m interested in your experiences – what teams have you been in or led and how did it succeed or fail?

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