1. Overemphasizing abstract goals. People like to talk about transcendent goals because they are inspirational. Steve Jobs was known for his inspiring keynote talks that emphasized changing the world. Such goals are uplifting, and can make work feel more meaningful. But when teams overestimate the importance of inspiring vision when setting goals for their team, they risk not paying enough attention to aligning personal priorities with those bigger goals. If team members don’t understand ‘What’s in it for me?’, it can be hard for them to commit to working toward team goals.
Teamwork Rx: Make sure that big, collective goals align with small, personal commitments that drive performance.
2. Underemphasizing roles. Many teams think that merely getting the right talent in play is all that it takes for a team to be successful. Research has shown, though, that you need clear structure and well-defined interdependent roles to best leverage the strengths of those on your team. Contrast the 2004 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Dream Team’s disappointing performance to the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors’ expert management of team roles.
Teamwork Rx: Well-structured teams generally outperform those with more raw talent—strength, skill, or IQ. Take time to find the roles and structure that make sense for your team.
3. Making too many rules. Human beings are rule-making machines—it is what defines us as a species and allows us to interact as social beings. Often the tendency in teams is to try to plan for every possible situation and create rules for all potential contingencies. This is both time-consuming and ineffective. Starbucks CEO and founder, Howard Schultz understood the importance of focusing on the right rules when he decided to bring back in-store bean grinding to help restore the brand’s reputation and performance.
Teamwork Rx: Focus on the few rules that are likely to have the biggest impact on your team’s culture and performance, such as information-sharing, decision-making and conflict resolution.
4. Ignoring reflection. One of the major cognitive biases recognized by research is outcome bias: if you’re successful, you don’t really reflect on what went well or could have gone better. However, in a world characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, or VUCA, successes are fleeting, and reflection is as much an imperative when things are going well as they are when they’re not. Too often, companies and teams reserve formal reflection for annual retreats or quarterly reviews, when, in reality, it needs to be taking place with much more frequency.
Teamwork Rx: Remember that check-ins need not always be huge affairs reserved for day-long retreats—they can be as simple as a 20-minute weekly stand-up meeting.
5. Failing to sell the change. You can be right, but ultimately still be unsuccessful. Such was the case for Lloyd Braun, the ABC executive who was the champion and driving force behind the smash hit, Lost. Braun was so convinced that his idea would be a hit, he barreled through green lighting the most expensive television pilot budget to date, $12 million. He did not take the time to get others on board with his vision, and even though his intuition was correct, he was fired before the show even premiered. Ultimately, the show was a huge success for six seasons.
Teamwork Rx: Strength of will and charisma are not enough to push through change—work hard to get buy-in so that people want to come along with you.
In the end, good teaming is about being mindful about how you’re working together, and making sure to check-in frequently to close the gaps between what you say you want to do and what you’re actually doing.