Signs Your Employees are Not Working as a Team

By Markey Read
As organizations mature through the middle phase of development and discover that communications are becoming more challenging, they start having “meetings” to keep everyone in the loop. Although the meeting culture emerges from necessity, some people will resist and find great reasons for not attending, some will dutifully attend but essentially check-out upon finding a seat, a few who come for the food, a few who are there to “communicate” important information, and one person who attempts to lead the “meeting.”
All teams are groups of people who share a common goal, but not all groups of people who share a common goal are teams.
It is common for the owner or manager of the company, in this phase of team formation, to start referring to the employees as a team and using various sports metaphors to inspire cooperation and work toward a common goal. Just calling a group of employees a team, however, does not make them a team.
Teams are comprised of individuals who operate with a high degree of interdependence, share authority and responsibility for self-management, are accountable for the collective performance, and work toward a common goal and shared rewards. A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.

Signs that a group of employees is NOT working as a team:

  • Inefficient use of meeting time and not having an established and clear meeting purpose (people are chronically late, missing, and/or unprepared).
  • Lack of consistent communication among managers.
  • Uncertainly about who “owns” a decision in the organization.
  • Decision making process is slow and/or cumbersome (decisions are “revisited” numerous times, piled onto one person, or made only at the last possible minute).
  • “Star performers” are held to different interpersonal standards. Angry outbursts and rude behavior are not addressed or are forgiven without consequence.
  • “Poor performers” are hiding in the corners and getting away with it.
  • Open conflict or detrimental competition in meetings or work spaces.
  • Cliques form around “playground bullies” where passive aggressive exclusion of a few is the norm.
  • Passive agreement to decisions with little or no effort to implement.
  • Undermining management decisions and chronic complaining about what “they” are doing to “us.”
It is my experience, that ineffective leadership and team development is a root cause to most of these issues. When an owner or manager does not effectively lead groups of employees, there is no hope of forming a team.
As a result, companies experience reluctant leadership, low productivity, high staff turnover, and internal competition between employees. Managing in this environment is more akin to running a preschool than a business.

Creating an Effective Team Environment

Mutual respect and understanding between team members is essential for true team to form. Managers and leaders often attempt to introduce team concepts before cleaning up the symptoms previously listed. In order to achieve this basis, issues must be addressed, some employees may need to leave or be given new opportunities within the organization, and managers need to be leaders, not just technicians.
My preferred method of addressing all of these challenges is to introduce Personality Type (commonly known as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI) to the group. Personality Type creates a common language and helps everyone realize that they can have a bit more humor about the various “personality quirks” of their fellow employees.
In the process, some individuals often realize that they are not actually happy in their current roles and either leave or start a constructive conversation with their manager about change; some people escalate their “bad behavior” and get escorted to the door; and most breathe a sigh of relief and start enjoying their jobs more.
Once some mutual understanding is established, then team concepts are more welcomed as “common sense” measures to coordinating efforts; and the work group starts becoming a team.
This first stage is called a Pseudo Team (aka “Forming”). This is often the most difficult stage because productivity will actually decline due to general confusion and unsurfaced opinions about what is most important. If company leadership has the fortitude to stay in the process, some early signs of improvement will appear. The mere hope of becoming a team motivates some members to surface key issues and can give unsure managers the strength to have those tough conversations with the bullies, star performers, and poor performers.
Training and external facilitation helps neutralize the messages from management, start introducing good team meeting practices, create a set of goals, performance standards, or structure to support effective team functioning, and forming a clear team mission.
Soon the team starts showing signs of a Potential Team (aka “Storming”) and productivity increases. By this time, the mission and goals are nearly in place, meeting structure is getting a foot hold, and the team experiences some early successes that build team morale. Now the energy can begin to focus on the true employee and customer needs.
At this delicate stage, the external consultant assists in developing clear leadership within the team structure and transitions into a coach/facilitator to leadership in order to introduce more team tools and processes. This is the point where teams are most likely to slip back into their former dysfunctional ways and the external consultant can act as the steward of the team; there is still a lot more work before the team really starts to function.
When the team experiences less effort and more flow it enters the Real Team (aka “Norming”) stage. Meetings are frequent, reasonably well led, the mission is integrated into daily team functioning, and goals are clear with milestones that are achievable and measurable. The team can focus on the 20 percent that makes an 80 percent difference and problem solving is consistent.
At this point, the team starts to flex its muscle: process is built into daily habits and the team actually starts facilitating itself as a result of the strong interpersonal and conflict resolution skills. Additionally, the team consists of a manageable number of people who use their complementary skills and commitment for a common purpose. Leadership is able to develop specific performance goals with well-developed strategies for which everyone holds themselves mutually accountable. The team will naturally create reasons for celebration and rewards/praise are commonly exchanged. And most importantly, there is minimal need for the consultant now.
When a team becomes accustomed to this new level of functioning, it seeks opportunities to excel and will eventually reach the stage of a High Performing Team (aka “Performing”). The energy and ease within the team is demonstrated through the deep commitment team members show to each other’s personal/professional success. This level is most likely achieved for periods of time around specific events for the company, like a key industry conference or trade show, moving to a new location, launching a new product, or community service days.
It is very difficult to sustain this level because most individuals do not want to expend the sustained level of energy required to focus on their individual team member’s welfare. Once a team experiences this level, however, they often hunger for the exhilarating effects – it truly is better than drugs