The Three Most Likely Issues Affecting Your Team

Published: May 8, 2018

As complex as human behavior can be, the problems that get teams stuck are surprisingly simple. Because living things grow in cycles, any team is always at some stage of challenge. Peak performance is one of these stages, but it is usually not considered a problem. Often, performing well is the natural consequence of addressing issues in these other three areas.

Common Team Issue #1 (upper left quadrant of the cycle)

There has been a significant change and teammates are struggling to adjust. On a larger scale, this could be a reorganization or a merger. On a smaller scale, this could be the departure of a trusted teammate or a change in leadership. Either way, workplace culture is altered and everyone must navigate the loss and adapt to new circumstances. Not everyone copes effectively. Some teammates pout while others protest. Those who can problem-solve usually help their teammates get unstuck. The stragglers create drag on the team’s momentum, especially if they add a toxic tone. The more time the team devotes to managing dysfunction, the longer it takes to get things back on track.

Common Team Issue #2 (upper right quadrant of the cycle)

A change has been recently processed but the team hasn’t reestablished its mission, values, and vision. The guiding light of the team’s new direction hasn’t been articulated and the behavior expectations that support the new goals haven’t been clarified. Conflict is natural as teammates jockey for position as rules and roles get defined. Until team norms and direction are clear, teammates will test limits in search of boundaries. Unless and until this platform is in place, team trust will be fragile.

Common Team Issue #3 (lower right quadrant of the cycle)

The team’s direction and values are clear but there’s no accountability for consistent words and behaviors that support this vision. Trust is put to the test every time a teammate acts or fails to act on a commitment. Connection is strengthened or weakened whenever someone follows or violates commonly held values. Disrespect erodes team culture while respect elevates diversity and innovation. Teams thrive when buoyed by psychological safety in the workplace and struggle in its absence (lower left quadrant of the cycle).

The easy part is determining what’s wrong with your team. It’s usually one of these three common issues. The hard part is knowing what to do about it. Perhaps processing the loss and introducing change-management skills might be helpful. Maybe the team needs to re-anchor its mission and culture. It could be just a matter of enforcing accountability for the values everyone agrees on but aren’t practicing. When all three of these common issues are addressed on a continuous basis, teams are empowered to explore, experiment, innovate, and create change. Where is your team in the cycle?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.