Pitfalls to avoid when building unstoppable teams

To successfully compete in today’s marketplace, leaders and managers must learn to build unstoppable teams that believe they can boldly overcome all obstacles. These teams, which I call “Surging Teams,” use highly functioning interactive capabilities to achieve their unstoppable momentum, accomplish goals and always win.

Building a Surging Team requires managers to create a complex, sensitive and empowering environment ­— one that allows team members to flourish individually while together they consistently accomplish team goals. Along the way there are pitfalls that managers and teams need to avoid. Here are five scenarios illustrating problems that can arise and some ideas for avoiding or solving them:

Pitfall #1: Not seizing team engagement opportunities

Mike, the new director of marketing, finished describing his ideas for an exciting new consumer program.  He was using all his expressive abilities to cast a vision for the consumer experience. “Our client partners will love this program!”

John, the VP of technology interrupted him, “Did you fill out the Information Services Systems Request form?”

“John, can’t we spend some time brainstorming about what’s possible before I complete the IT paperwork?” Mike pleaded.

John’s team was busy, and he believed these kinds of premature meetings only delayed the projects he was currently managing. He stood up and said, “We can talk more when you fill out the form as well as you can,” and left the conference room.

People excel under pressure, so bringing problems to your team to solve will not simply result in delaying other projects they’re working on. Keeping opportunities from your team will stunt team development.  Leaders of Surging Teams recognize that developing their team’s adeptness at entrepreneurial collaboration (or brainstorming) is as important as their technical skills. It is through such team collaboration that innovative ideas are born. Leaders who decline to collaborate are less able to use innovation to push past a barrier to team success.

Pitfall #2: Keeping people on the team who are disruptive 

“Who threw this aluminum can in the trash and not in the recycling bin?” Jean interrupted the presenter and held up the misplaced can with an angry look on her face, and scanned the conference room attendees.

Each Wednesday the operations team held an informal “brown bag” learning seminar in the conference room, and someone had disposed of their soda can without considering its recycling suitability. This wasn’t the first time that Jean had been inconsiderate with her outbursts. An awkward silence resulted, while the presenter considered how to again deal with Jean’s lack of social awareness. Eyes rolled and all learning ceased.

Keeping disruptive people on the team not only reduces productivity, but it also causes distrust in management’s ability to manage and lead the team. Leaders of Surging Teams need to understand the unique signature character strengths of each member and encourage each member to use these strengths while at work, avoiding those character traits that are unhelpful.

However, when one member repeatedly disrupts the team and is unable to stay in the “character strength zone,” the leader must act to protect the team’s productivity flow, and show the disruptive person the door. 

Pitfall #3: Trying to fix team member shortcomings 

Jim’s manager handed him the performance review. Since performance reviews had financial implications, Jim scanned the form quickly to find “the bottom line.” He’d have time to review it in detail later, but he wanted to know what his prospects for a raise were this year.

His eyes went immediately to the last item, “Employee Rating,” and his heart sank when he saw the “Average” rating. Just above the rating was a section that detailed “Opportunities for Employee Improvement.” Jim was disheartening to again read the same list of his least developed character strengths.

Focusing on helping team members identify and use their most highly developed character strengths is far more effective in increasing employee well being and productivity, than trying to fix an employee’s least developed character strengths. 

Pitfall #4: Allowing only the extroverts to be heard 

The team leader sat back and let the discussion happen, as the brainstorming session began to gather momentum. Ideas were proposed and then transcribed onto the super-sized post-it-notes hanging on the wall. Team members excitedly reacted to the proposed ideas while waiting for an opportunity to submit their own idea.

But the team leader didn’t notice that one member was not being heard. She sat quietly waiting for a chance to present her idea, but the discussion was so rapid that there was no easy way for her to join in without interrupting someone else.

Lauren always started out excited to be included in the collaboration, but once again, she resolved that she’d again have to remain quiet. The team leader was unaware that one of his valued team members had again not be able to present her ideas.

Next time you hold a team meeting or brainstorming session, pay attention to the quieter members of the group. Watch their expressions, call on them and make space for each team member to contribute. 

Pitfall #5: Failure to provide inspired group governance 

Greg disliked his new responsibilities. The promotion to department manager came with a raise, and that was a welcome benefit, but he longed for the opportunity to work individually on projects that required long periods of unbroken concentration. He excelled at solving computer problems that confounded his peers, and he gained notoriety which resulted in his promotion.

As he thought about the change his career had taken, Debbie knocked on his door and asked to talk to him. He knew what this was about.  She had some complaints about how a few members of the team were handling the project she was working on, and she wanted to discuss this. Personality conflicts on the team sapped his energy, and he tried not to let Debbie read his weariness with this issue on his face.

Team leaders are often recruited from the ranks of the most successful technical staff. They often take these management positions completely unprepared for the new set of leadership responsibilities they must provide in order to successfully lead their teams.

Companies that promote from the ranks of their technical staff must quickly provide them the leadership training skills that they will need in order to be successful in their new role.

The three most important management skills for leading a Surging Team are providing trusted management (fairness), providing inspired leadership (rallying around a team bold purpose), and offering opportunities for each team member to engage and “own” the goals of the team.

These are not skills commonly taught in technical programs, but they are as important to the success of technical and engineering teams as the technical skill sets that the team needs to perform their complex work.

Avoiding pitfalls such as these can help you build a team that is stronger, more engaged and better able to collaborate to overcome all obstacles to success and meet the team’s business goals. The time and energy you spend developing your new leadership skills and put them to use creating an environment where team members feel valued, individually and collectively, will pay ongoing dividends in your team’s ability to achieve repeated success.

Scott Brennan is president and accelerated team success expert at BOLDbreak, Inc., and author of the new book “The Surging Team — 10 BOLDskills for Accelerated Team Success.” For information, visit www.BOLDbreak.com.