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3 Surprising Drawbacks You Need to Know About Teams

3 Surprising Drawbacks to Teams

It’s almost unthinkable in leadership circles to say anything negative about teams.

Trust me, I am a HUGE believer in teams. I work with some incredible leadership teams, staff teams, volunteer teams and my kids both played lots of team sports. Teams play a huge role in any measure of success.

But teams are so positively raved about in leadership circles that sometimes we forget they actually do have even a few drawbacks and limitations.

In fact, you already realize this, because as much as you’re a fan of teams, you’ve also been frustrated by them.

Who hasn’t grown frustrated with

Waiting for far too long for a decision to be made?

Overly long agendas that are impossible to get through?

Great ideas that die on the table in meetings?

Teams that don’t have the courage to implement what everybody knows is right?

Even the healthiest teams struggle with a few of these on occasion.

Many of the frustrations around team focus around three key issues. I’ll share the three drawbacks and then suggest a better alternative to each of them.

1. Bottlenecks. As an organization grows, agendas can get so long and discussion can get so drawn out that decisions don’t get made in a timely way. Throw in a vacation day or two when a key team member is away and decisions that could have been made in minutes can take a month. People grow frustrated while waiting for ‘the team’ to get back to them.

2. Courage. As I blogged about here, I think individuals as a rule display more courage than teams. If all your decisions have to go through teams, chances are risks will be avoided and courage might get killed. Sometimes teams are more courageous than individuals, but often not.

3. Ownership. The old adage is true, when everyone is responsible for watering the horse, the horse dies. I thought you were going to do it. Well, I thought you were. Meanwhile, the horse has been in heaven three days. Sometimes you leave a meeting excited by the future only to have that fizzle. No one personally owned the decision. No one was put in charge of follow up. And “everyone’s in favour” has become ‘no one has done anything about it”. All you did was make a decision, but it didn’t impact your direction one bit.

So what do you do about these problems?

Push as much decision making as possible to the individuals responsible.

There are, in most organizations, very few decisions that have to be made by a group. Outside of the annual budget, a change in mission, vision or direction, and maybe a few others, few things really need to be decided in team.

Inspired by books like this, we recently changed our meeting structure at Connexus so almost no decisions are made in team any more.

Meetings are held for the purposes of communication and discussion, but decisions are made by the staff and volunteers responsible.

Here’s why:

1. If you can’t trust your staff or volunteers, you probably hired the wrong people. If you are constantly second guessing your people, why are they on your team (or why are you on theirs)?

2. Individuals own decisions. When you make the decision, you are far more likely to feel a sense of responsibility for the outcome.

3. Fewer ideas get watered down. When an individual makes a decision (even in consultation with a team), they are likely to run with a ‘pure idea’ (if you have the right people on your team that is). They take more risks.

As a bonus to those who subscribe to my blog via email, I’ll send you the full text of my staff memo to our team empowering individuals to make decisions without team permission. If you haven’t yet subscribed, just fill out the subscribe box on the right of the blog today and you’ll have this post and the document in your inbox tomorrow (February 28th).

What are your frustrations with team decision making? What would you change about team in your environment?

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  • Kim R

    Yes. Check out the 12 spies (Numbers 13) for example. Where 11 had feeling and fear, 1 had courage and faith.

    • cnieuwhof

      That’s a great example Kim. So true!