We’re Stuck. What Do We Do?

Published: April 4, 2017

Ask three simple questions and then choose a course of action:

  1. Where is our team in its lifecycle?
  2. Why are we in this stage?
  3. What should we do to move our team forward?
All teams travel through predictable cycles of investment, trust, innovation, and change. Knowing where you are validates the emotional reaction to current challenges. Understanding why the team is experiencing any obstacle is the key to getting unstuck. A diagnosis ignites an action plan. Consider this simple model:

Where is our team in its lifecycle?

Teams get stuck in four typical places. During the investment phase, teams are tasked with establishing the infrastructure of norms, values, and ground rules for constructive conflict. This is, by nature, hard work. During the trust phase, teams are tasked with connection and collaboration. It’s easy to get comfortable and complacent. During the innovation phase, teams are tasked with stretching themselves. Anxiety is a normal emotion when you’re out on a limb. During the change phase, teams are tasked with letting go of the familiar and embracing new circumstances. The consequence is often depletion.

Why are we at this stage?

Your rearview mirror is your most valuable tool when diagnosing your team’s state of wellness or source of sickness. The circumstances leading up to today’s challenges offer important clues. Struggle almost always follows growth. Look to the emotional component first. If teammates are frustrated, it’s likely they are rebuilding the foundation of norms, values, and rules of engagement following some significant change. If teammates lack trust, there’s probably a problem with accountability with the investment everyone agreed to uphold. If teammates are complacent, it’s likely they are resisting the change needed to grow to the next level. If teammates are apprehensive, chances are they are preparing for smart risk and daring innovation. If teammates are depleted, they are often anticipating the consequences of inevitable change.

What should we do to move our team forward?

All pain gets normalized eventually. Whether struggling with rules of engagement, enjoying the comfort of closeness, venturing into new territory, or navigating a change, every teammate has the choice whether to stay stuck or move forward. Leaders lead and followers follow but each teammate chooses his or her own pace. Some are fully engaged while others remain cautious. Still others resist and threaten to bring dysfunction to the entity.

Provide resources and support to the engaged. Find a way to inspire the under-engaged. Hold the actively disengaged accountable for their cost to the team. Diagnose the whole team as well as each teammate’s contribution to the solution. Every teammate should be able to answer the three-part question: Where are we on the cycle, why are we where we are, and what should we do next to move forward?

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 College 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.