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Complex Thoughts

Ten Common Problems
That Can Sabotage Your Team

Here are some tips on how to conquer a host of problems that can beset the team-building process. It’s valuable to read and then use it for a handy troubleshooting guide.


    Team is not cohesive. Groups have formed within the team and are taking “sides”
    on various issues.

    • Conflict causes this type of polarization; the leader is not involved enough or a team member is attempting to take the leadership role.
    • Discuss the feelings and needs of each subgroup separately (not in the group as a whole).
    • Ask if team members prefer the current structure or would like to restore wholeness. If they prefer the current structure, attempt to find a way to use the new, smaller groups. If that is not possible, disband this team and form a new one with some or all new members.
    • Reduce conflict by changing assigned tasks, if necessary. Perhaps the team has too much to do in too little time without the proper resources.
    • Re-establish your position as the leader and remain involved. Your personal strength is very important; if team members do not follow you now, this team project will fail.
    • If a team member is trying to gain power, talk with him/her privately to determine his/her agenda. If needed, reprimand the person or remove him/her from the team.

    Team does not achieve the anticipated results at a specific point during meetings or discussions, at a check point, or at the end of the team project.

    • Lack of communication. The team’s goals are unclear.
    • Remind the group what the nature of their task is and their collective purpose.
    • Provide adequate feedback tot he whole team as well as to each individual.
    • Mare sure you clearly communicate your expectations to the team.
    • Ask the team to make periodic status reports to your on their progress (even if you’re in each meeting).
    • Establish “check points” for various steps along the way to ensure that the team is on the right track. Prevent unproductive discussion within the group: small talk, personal anecdotes not related to the subject, or team members arguing procedural points rather than tackling the job.
    • Give members appropriate training and information.

    Team meetings lack luster. Members fail to demonstrate any initiative.

    • Lack of communication and absence of human relations skills.
    • Establish (or reiterate) the rewards the group can expect when the goal is achieved. (Note: Only give a reward to the group as a whole, not to individuals. This will cause division among team members.)
    • Reaffirm your belief in the team; let team members know that your feel they can do a good job; praise them when appropriate.
    • Reinforce that you honestly believe a solution is at hand; emphasize that nothing is impossible; give hope. If needed, relate similar situations that were successful.
    • Ask team members to make a commitment. Ask each member to say out loud, “I am committed to this project and to this team.”
    • Delegate more responsibility to team members. Give each member an equal amount, and retain your position as leader.

    In team settings, hostility is evident or appears to be part of the exchange. One or more members behave in a manner not appropriate to teamwork.

    • There is a difficult person on the team; the leader is perceived as weak; one member of a vastly different mindset is in a group of “think-alikes.”
    • Discuss the difficult person’s problems one-on-one. If a solution is obvious, implement it and return the person to the team. If the person remain resistant, remove him/her from the team.
    • Talk with the difficult person and other members of the group about the difficult person’s behavior. Discuss the reason why he/she does not fit in. This can be done with each member separately or as a group.
    • If the person is removed for the group, quickly reestablish togetherness by honestly and objectively describing the situation and explaining why you took this action. Ask for the group to stand behind you.
    • Assert yourself to the group by emphasizing the need for fair participation by all members.

    Discussions become unbalanced because a domineering person monopolizes meetings, forces his/her viewpoint on the group or develops more ideas than the others.

    • An especially creative person is placed with others who are less verbal or less talented. The team leader or team facilitator is not properly monitoring the team, or one person has considerably more knowledge or experience regarding the project than other team members.
    • Compliment the person on his/her good work and ask for a more even level of participation from all team members.
    • Ask the verbal person, privately, to put extra ideas in writing to you or to meet with your separately to discuss additional ideas or suggestions. (Note: Do not squelch the person’s willingness to assert ideas; you simply need to find him/her an additional outlet.)
    • Make sure the format for discussion is understood and followed.
    • Set time limits for discussions, or give each person a turn in answering questions.
    • When the group meets, carefully balance the contribution made by each member. Level out these contributions by gently interrupting when necessary, asking certain members for more information and, in general, encouraging participation from all.

    A team member does not participate in the team setting, thereby creating a lack of balance.

    • A member is unassertive or has previously been burned in team settings, is unsure of his knowledge or abilities, or is intimidated by other members or the process.
    • Give extra praise to the individual when he/she speaks up.
    • In a one-on-one meeting, encourage the person to express thoughts and ideas as they arise. Affirm the person’s good qualities and show your appreciation for him/her. (Note: Do not say that you’ve noticed the person is too quiet, needs to contribute more, etc. These statements will sound like criticism.)
    • In a private meeting, ask the person why he/she is not participating. Depending on the reason, determine if the problem can be solved or if the individual should be removed from the team.
    • Cut short any remarks from other team members like, “That’s the wrong way,” “You never have good ideas,” etc.

    Team members appear unable to proceed without your direction. Team members constantly query you for advice and direction, especially in times when they could be self-sufficient.

    • You have not empowered the group with the ability to complete the project, and you are over-involved in the process.
    • Reaffirm the team’s goals and clearly explain your function.
    • Ask team members to develop solutions without relying as much on your involvement (but restate your commitment).
    • Alter the forum of the meetings. Perhaps a different setting is needed. Change the mood (members can dress casually, you can serve punch and cookies, or arrange for the group to meet off campus). This eliminates the authority levels of various team members, if that’s a problem. Initiate discussions and then step back. Take an equal “physical” position in the group (don’t sit at the head of the table, etc.).

    Team discussions involve outright arguing and unconstructive disagreement.

    • The solution identified threatens personal interests; team members are carrying resentments from other work situations; the leader is not asserting enough power.
    • Evaluate the goal to be achieved. If the project concerns wages, benefits, working conditions and related issues, the outcome might be too threatening to team members. They are bringing too much personal bias to the meetings. Find different ways to gather information or complete your project.
    • Ask team members to resolve problems they have with one another, especially problems that occurred before the team project began or which have nothing to do the team’s objectives.
    • Tell team members that if full cooperation is not possible, they can no longer be part of the team.
    • Take a look at your methodology. Do you pit one member against another? Perhaps you inadvertently show favoritism. Are you rewarding individuals instead of the group as a whole?
    • If it appears that team members perceive you as weak, ask them for feedback on your performance. Weed out useless remarks from the troublemakers and complainers. Learn from the objective statements. Make necessary changes, but clearly remain the leader.

    Team members do not seem concerned about the outcome of the project or excited about being part of a team. Team meetings get little or no results and are boring.

    • The leader has not assembled the right people; no real challenge has been given; no reward is apparent.
    • Re-examine the traits, background and skills of each team member. Perhaps some of them are not “team players” and are too independent or dependent to be on a team. Regroup your people if necessary.
    • Give team members a project with more excitement, something with more at stake.
    • Eliminate staleness. Change team members, the length of time to achieve solutions, the setting and other factors, especially if the same team has been working on one project for a long time.
    • Convince team members their work has an impact on the organization. Don’t give them the impression that your can veto their work if your don’t like their solution.
    • Give the team responsibility. Tell them what you want them to do and how long they have to do it.

    Team members are too willing to agree with one another and do not have the confidence to express differing viewpoints. Solutions achieved seem weak because the team is more interested in agreeing than working through conflicts to come up with a good solution.

    • Members desire harmony more than productivity; the leader is not asking the right questions in the group setting.
    • When asking team members for their thoughts, give either/or and multiple-choice questions ˆ not open-ended questions such as, “How do you feel about that?” Make them commit to a particular course of action.
    • After one opinion is expressed, ask another member if he/she agrees or disagrees˜and why. If the answer seems soft, continue to probe. Play “devil’s advocate” and ask “what if” questions to stimulate opposing viewpoints.
    • Put the project at hand aside for a moment. Ask a hypothetical or controversial question unrelated to the project to get members to be more opinionated about their views. If the discussion becomes more active, return to the project.      


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