Failing Teams and Company Dysfunction: How HR Can Bridge the Gap

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????by Dr. Linda Sharkey
Global Managing Partner and
Director Talent and Leadership Practice

When individual employees work well together and form strong teams, they can be driving forces for a company’s success. Conversely, when you have a team that isn’t working together well, it can hold a company back and generate a contagiously negative attitude. It’s your job – and privilege – in human resources to create dynamic, strong teams that help move your company forward.

Telltale Signs of Poor Teamwork

You want employees who are organized as a team to function like a team! Any evidence that individuals see themselves as separate from the group effort is a bad sign.

Problems arise when employees start pointing fingers, complaining about others, acting as though their work is more important than others’ tasks in the organization, or stop being accountable for jobs they agreed to complete. These actions are all divisive and work against teamwork and collaboration.

You can also see signs of trouble in employees’ general attitudes toward work. Sometimes, people are apathetic — they only do what they’re told, without offering to help others grow. They may feel threatened by others’ successes. You may struggle to fill open positions because leaders don’t believe in the development of others. If you see this kind of thing around the office, you may need a full overhaul of your talent system, as well as a deep look at the culture that’s developed in your organization.

How to Recruit New Talent

I ensure that every leader I work with has a list of individuals who could be great for their teams. Getting to know talent outside your company, and in other areas of your company, is essential. Who are the industry people you should meet and know? Who are the people in the organization with a lot of potential? Even if you don’t have roles for them now, cultivating relationships with them early will make it easier to attract them when the time is right.

Get to know and understand people’s aspirations and strengths, and explore their ideas for improvement or change. A personal relationship with them, relative to their work and career goals, will make it easier to create appealing roles for them and for your organization. Most people don’t spend time getting to know emerging talent, but it’s important to form a relationship with high-potential employees.

Invite them to dinner or hold a roundtable discussion with several promising individuals. You will learn as much from them as they’ll learn from you. Explore what excites them and get ideas for innovation you may not have previously considered. This takes energy and may feel like extra work, but the payoff is great when you’re trying to recruit great talent.

How to Add New Team Members

When you’re looking to hire new team members, ensure that you have a firm understanding of the current culture of the team or group. Hiring someone who is completely countercultural to the group can cause tension.

However, if you want to change the current culture, and need different behaviors and thinking, another approach may be required. You may be looking for certain characteristics, rather than someone who just fits the team well. If this is the case, make sure to provide support for the new behaviors you’re introducing. If you don’t, your organization will reject the new cultural elements like antibodies fighting a virus.

In any hiring situation, ensure that you’re thinking ahead to what might be needed several years out. I see many leaders hire for a job as it is today, without thinking through what role an individual could play in the organization in the future – or thinking through how the job may stretch to meet changing customer needs. If talent does not see opportunities for career advancement or learning new skills, they’ll move on to other companies. Additionally, you will have talent that is good for today’s challenges, but people who may not be able to flex to new challenges.

How to Build a Strong Team

Many companies do team-building exercises that are simply fun games for people to play together. While this may get individuals interacting on a new level, the “bonds” that form are not always lasting. Adults need to see a real benefit and purpose behind working as a team. This can be accomplished using team-building strategies that align with the organization’s business strategy and purpose.

My best practices revolve around using reliable assessments of the current team’s performance, as well as the individual behaviors that optimize the team’s work. I often get data from subordinates that reveals the impact of great teamwork; it also demonstrates when the team is not working together effectively. Ask what this team is like at “peak performance,” and how the group can clone that behavior. You want to get a clear picture of what great teamwork looks like for that specific group.

This is not a question you simply ask once. Building great teams takes time and effort. A constant dialogue and a personal commitment to change are essential. Without them, the team will remain stagnant. You want real movement toward your goal of an effective team, not just good intentions. To keep team-building efforts alive, you must follow up on the initial efforts and build in coaching and reinforcement for behavioral changes.

Help the group get real experience working together to build for the future, understand the new behaviors required, and practice the new behaviors regularly. An environment must be created in which the team can give each other feedback on how they’re doing in supporting the team and advancing the group. Your organization must foster honest communication. This requires regular and consistent discussions, and it’s great for the HR leader who’s a member of the team to lead these talks and role model good communication and feedback. Finally, measurement of progress at the team and individual levels is essential. Without measurement and real tracking of progress, there is limited accountability for change.

No one would argue that poor teamwork doesn’t damage a company. However, solving the problem can be difficult. There are always variables specific to your organization, but these guidelines can help you identify teams that aren’t functioning well so you can create stronger teams in the future. After all, your organization is only as strong as the teams it’s made of.

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