Organizational Effectiveness: Why Are Teams Sometimes So Painful?

I have a confession. Decades ago, in my undergraduate Psychology program, I routinely dropped classes with team projects. I found nonfacilitated group exercises excruciating! 

I had the same experience in graduate school. Group projects took so damn long to get going, and group members’ dysfunctional behavior (never mine, of course) drove me nuts! Funny, however, that sometimes the end product was pretty damn good!

Have you ever been on a jury? Did you want to ask the judge, “Excuse me, Your Honor. Like, did you go search for a bunch of dolts to put in this room with me just to piss me off?!” The first hour of conversation is like a group of 3-year-olds fighting over a Ghostbusters toy. Eventually, it gets sorted out, but there’s a lot of pushing, shoving and crying involved. 

So, guess what I spend half my time doing as a coach? Working with CEOs on team effectiveness!

I suspect some of you have felt this way about teams, and for good reason. You can’t get off to a good start without working on the team itself before diving into the content. It’s like teaching someone to fly by putting them in an aircraft and telling them to give it a shot. If they live, they may become an ace flyer, but the chances aren’t good. Some instruction and orientation will speed the process and reduce the death rate.

To have a shot at success, a team has a finite number of requirements, first of which is knowing what success looks like! What’s the objective?

But before that, you must identify whether you have a team or a work group. Is it (to paraphrase Patrick Lencioni) a relatively small group with common objectives, rewards and responsibilities? If so, you might have a team.

In the business environment, having no skilled leader or facilitator is a surefire way to waste time and increase your failure rate. Talking about the objective(s), agreeing on responsibilities and rules of engagement, and getting to know one another seem ponderous, but I guarantee that this allows for faster and better results. 

I don’t coach undergraduates; I coach CEOs. At this point, the game is real, and you can’t just “drop the class.” You can, however, work on the team before you work on the business, and you’ll be in better shape and get a better grade.

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