Widening the Team Lens

Published: September 22, 2020

When teams struggle, the camera zooms in on the problem and forces an up-close perspective. Like anything you place under a microscope, you sacrifice the big picture in favor of the tiny details. Teams under duress tend to look at the dynamics playing out between teammates, often ignoring the overall wellness of the larger group. We pay attention to the symptoms rather than the causes. Let’s widen the lens.

Interpersonal exchanges are usually reflections of broader team culture. Teammates act out the behaviors normalized by the ecosystem. If an appreciation of differences is expected, we’re more likely to see curiosity than dismissiveness. If, on the other hand, disrespect is tolerated on the team, we are more likely to see guardedness than trust. The actions of individual teammates are expressions of the workplace norms.

Widening the lens means following the symptom back to its source. If a teammate is disrespectful or dismissive, it might be valuable to question leadership’s tolerance of behaviors that undermine trust and collaboration. Likewise, if a teammate contributes a creative solution to a problem, it might be valuable to examine what aspects of the team culture enable exploration, discovery and innovation.

Both wellness and sickness create symptoms that reveal the team’s condition. Once you’ve finished peering in for microscopic study, step back and get a view from the universe. This is the purpose of the Distancing Stage of the Team Clock® cycle. Acknowledge the circumstances and then step back for a wider angle. The way forward lies in the macro view, not the minutiae.

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.