What To Do With an Underperforming Team?

Another leadership team meeting is over, and once again, nothing useful came out of it. And it’s likely that the next time won’t be any different. So, what should be done when the results are lacking, and the team is underperforming?

The team has made plans, they believe they have good collaboration, and they can certainly have fun together, so why aren’t they achieving satisfactory results? They claim to care about each other and the goal, but do they possess the crucial ambition and drive required to reach it? Drawing on more than 20 years of experience in leadership development, we uncover the complexity of team development here, which creates effective teams and has a direct impact on the bottom line.

Trust forms the foundation

To create a strong and productive team, trust is absolutely crucial. Trust is not something that naturally arises when a team collaborates. It’s a fundamental element that must be consciously built and nurtured. When team members trust each other’s abilities and intentions, a foundation is laid for working together towards common goals. This creates an environment where risks can be taken, innovative ideas can flourish, and individual strengths can be combined to create a stronger whole.

However, trust is not always easy to work with. Even though everyone may claim to trust each other, genuine trust is often more subtle and complex. It’s not just about trusting that your colleagues will perform their tasks; it’s about trusting that they will honestly share knowledge, thoughts, and concerns. Trust means admitting mistakes, sharing uncertainties, and being open to constructive criticism. It’s a process that requires time, patience, and active effort.

A shared set of values creates direction and coherence

The next thing to address is a shared set of values. A team’s shared values serve as the compass that guides its members in how they should work together. It’s important to explicitly define this foundation, as it provides a clear direction for the team’s approach to work. Without this foundation, members can become divided and make decisions that aren’t aligned with the way they should otherwise work together. Even though teams might implicitly understand their way of working, articulating their common values can prevent confusion and unite all members around a common path. As the team navigates challenges and achievements, these values serve as a guiding force, anchoring decisions and actions in a shared vision that supports organisational goals.

Alongside a shared set of values, a strong team can strive for excellence and set high expectations for themselves and each other. They can set an ambition for their team, not just for the bottom line. This requires team members to set aside personal discomfort and hold each other accountable for consistent high performance. By encouraging members to challenge themselves and each other, a culture is created where continuous improvement is the key to success.

Artificial harmony is a challenge for development

Most teams know when they only superficially get along and thus the results remain incomplete. They’ve fallen into artificial harmony, where they enjoy each other’s company but avoid confronting each other. The perception of harmony can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it creates an atmosphere where team members feel comfortable in each other’s presence. On the other hand, it can create a barrier to identifying areas that need improvement and initiating the necessary conversations about changes or difficult issues. When we examine this phenomenon, we begin to understand the importance of daring to address conflicts, so disagreements turn into constructive solutions. Recognising and challenging this artificial harmony is another step towards creating a truly effective team that is willing to tackle challenges and achieve results.

The fear of conflicts and mutual accountability

Conflicts are often difficult to address and discuss within a team, as they can be perceived as personally uncomfortable and potentially escalating. The desire to maintain a facade of positivity and camaraderie resonates deeply with most individuals but often prevents team members from directly addressing underlying issues. However, constructive conflicts can function as a catalyst for new ideas and solutions. Overcoming this fear of conflicts can create a culture where constructive disagreements are not only accepted but also encouraged. It’s about establishing psychological safety, where members feel secure enough to provide honest feedback and challenge each other. Being able to receive counterarguments without feeling attacked is crucial in creating high-performing teams. By doing so, teams can transition from an atmosphere of concern to one of open and honest dialogue, forming the foundation for an effective team and positive results.

Another cornerstone of effective team dynamics is mutual accountability, which distinguishes teams from mere workgroups. This entails not only taking responsibility for individual tasks but also supporting and challenging each other towards a common goal. For many, striking a balance between offering assistance and avoiding excessive interference can be challenging. This equilibrium is essential to create an environment where team members hold each other mutually accountable for achieving shared objectives. Establishing a culture of mutual accountability requires trust and openness, where members feel comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback and support. It’s a delicate balance that, when mastered, paves the way for improved team performance.

Development is challenging yet indispensable

A crucial aspect of team development is the ability to focus on the key areas where development will yield the most significant improvement. Training and feedback can be employed to cultivate new behavioural patterns within the team. While changing habits may seem difficult, it’s essential to train and reinforce new methods for genuine development. Development isn’t just about altering behaviour; it’s also about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and stepping into the next level of growth. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s essential for personal and professional development.

Development requires more than mere information transfer; it necessitates a profound transformation of behaviour and mindset. At Summit, we utilize a wide array of techniques, including reflection, training, and interactive exercises, all aimed at creating lasting changes in behaviour and mindset that support both individual and collective goals.

Creating a culture for success

Team development isn’t solely about short-term gains; it’s about building a culture that employs development to achieve success. Development is an ongoing process that demands commitment, perseverance, and a willingness to achieve ambitious outcomes. Summit collaborates with teams to establish a robust team culture where honest and constructive communication, feedback, and development are integrated into a common goal. This not only cultivates stronger teams but also more resilient organisations capable of adapting to changing challenges.

Team development and processes are an investment in an organization’s future. It requires focused effort, courage, and dedication, but the reward is a strong team capable of delivering results in the short and long term.

If you’re interested in exploring team development further and delving deeper into strategies and tools, please feel free to contact us. We tailor our approach to your specific reality to help create strong and effective teams that can thrive in the modern business world.

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