4 Common Team Problems, and How to Prevent Them

by John Estafanous in April 25th, 2019
4 Common Team Problems, and How to Prevent Them

When members of a workplace team are all on the same page, the synergy and output can be incredible. But certain common team problems, such as unclear priorities, lack of a common purpose or avoiding productive conflict can hinder performance and diminish results.

In my work with corporate teams using the RallyBright platform, I see four common team problems teams. I also see how those challenges negatively impact business. If any of these resonate with you, don’t worry. There are concrete actions you can take to help resolve them and get your team back on track.

1. Lack of a shared, agreed-upon purpose

Having a shared team purpose allows your team to accomplish things its individual members couldn’t on their own. When everyone has a clear sense of direction and understands expected core behaviors, it’s much easier for a team to be collaborative, purposeful and focused on priorities.

If your team hasn’t discussed its core purpose, each individual could be working with different assumptions. This means they could be working toward different goals, resulting in both inefficiency and low resilience.

How to prevent it: Take the time to discuss as a team what your overarching purpose is. Ask how you’d want stakeholders and partners to think, talk and feel about the team, and what key behaviors your team members should exhibit in order to achieve that purpose and live that brand.

2. Misalignment

If your team lacks alignment, whether it’s with customers, industries or other internal units, it can create numerous challenges, including more silos and/or misunderstandings between teams. Being out of alignment with your internal stakeholders creates challenges and can damage your team’s reputation. It’s also hard to achieve peak performance if you aren’t in agreement on your overall business strategy.

Misalignment is also problematic when it comes to your customers. Without a customer-first mindset it’s difficult to stay focused on your customer’s needs, wants and pain points. And it’s tough to retain business and achieve a true product/market fit. When a team is well-aligned, it’s easier to discover and take action on insights needed to be successful with your internal and external colleagues and customers.

How to prevent it: Make your customer the focus. Develop customer personas to help you get inside the customer mindset and better understand their goals and worries. It’s also helpful to review customer support requests and analyze customer feedback to get a firsthand look at their points of view. You can also meet with customers face-to-face, send out surveys or hold focus groups or interviews to gain deeper insights.

3. Not ruthlessly prioritizing goals

This is probably the most common team problem I see. Similar to issues teams face when they lack clear purpose and goals, it’s also problematic when a team doesn’t prioritize its goals effectively. When goals are clearly prioritized, performance improves, delivery is more consistent, and the team shows a significant bias for action. Failing to have precise priorities is more common than you’d think; according to a study by the London Business School, only a third of senior managers can accurately identify the three top priorities at their business.

If you’re not clear on priorities, your team definitely isn’t. When everyone is on the same page about goals and objectives, it’s far more likely you’ll have a high-performing, resilient team.

How to prevent it: If you’re a manager, it’s a good idea to proactively identify the top three to five business priorities for your team and make sure every team member is in the loop. It’s also important to know and share the metrics that will be used to measure success. Track these metrics in a way the team can see them, such as a team performance dashboard where goals can be transparent. By reviewing the dashboard often as a team, you can enhance your team’s accountability. (A shared spreadsheet could also work). Discuss progress with your team at least quarterly.

4. High discomfort with conflict

Conflict is an inevitable part of life, especially in the workplace. And some personality types are highly avoidant of conflict and disagreements. But when well-handled, conflict is both productive and healthy. When work teams are extremely uncomfortable with conflict, it can reveal that there’s a lack of strong connection between team members.

Healthy, high-performing teams share a sense of optimism and a growth mindset. They also have a sense of trust and safety with one another that allows for open communication and fosters a willingness to make individual sacrifices on behalf of the team. However, if communication is suffering and team members are uncomfortable dealing with issues, team dynamics will weaken. Employees will eventually become less engaged. This often eventually leads to poor business results.

How to prevent it: Boosting engagement and connection on your team will make it easier for the group to build trust and handle conflict when it arises. It’s also important that team members feel safe sharing their opinions and perspectives. Teams, like people, have distinct conflict styles, so it’s important to help your team understand what its conflict style is. Reinforce the message that productive conflict is normal and healthy, but that passive-aggressive or domineering behavior won’t fly. Keep in mind that varying personality types have different conflict styles and prefer to resolve disagreements differently. Work to nurture team relationships and recognize team members regularly so when conflict does pop up, it doesn’t create an irreparable rift.

None of us humans are perfect. It’s unavoidable that we’ll all face at least one of these problems on a team we’re part of. This is especially true for teams that are large or contain vastly different personality types. But if you proactively work to prevent team problems and tackle them quickly when they arise, you’ll build a stronger, more resilient and higher-performing team.

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