Ten common team challenges – and how to overcome them

Happy team in a relaxed meeting with their manager
The busy-ness of day-to-day business means team challenges are often brushed aside with the hope that they will just disappear, which they rarely do. Instead, be proactive.

Whichever of these teamwork challenges you face, address them and create a successful team.

Common challenges of working in a team

1. Lack of trust
Trust is crucial to teamwork, and it starts with team members knowing each other. Team members absolutely need to know each other, both professionally and personally. Otherwise they won’t understand each other and they won’t want to engage because they haven’t made that human connection – so they won’t fully trust each other.

2. Conflict and tension
Conflict is one of the biggest challenges facing any team. Conflict, or a difference of opinion, can be healthy and, if carefully managed, it can trigger useful debates. Conflict can make people think differently, expanding knowledge and insight, and innovation can happen and results flourish. Different opinions are not a bad thing. It’s how we handle the conflict that makes a difference.

3. Not sharing information
Knowledge is not power. Team members all bring their unique set of skills, knowledge, experience and wisdom to the table. Effective teams fearlessly share regularly and generously for the benefit of everyone. This makes the capability of the whole team grow and gives the team more power.

4. Low engagement
Team engagement is crucial to business success. Engaged team members who are interested in what they do are committed to the team mission and willing to going the extra mile. They are there in body as well as mentally and emotionally. The key to engagement is involvement; by involving others you make it impossible to stay detached.

5. Lack of transparency
Without transparency, trust will suffer. Transparency is becoming the expected norm in business and expectations are growing. It starts at the top, the more senior you are the more responsibility you have to be a role model for this. Employees will follow the leader’s behaviours, good or bad. When this is done well it can have a positive cascade effect throughout the organisation.

Overcome your teamwork challenges to help your teams keep working well together

6. No long-term thinking
Businesses have to get beyond day-to-day urgencies, be able to take a holistic view, see the big picture and how all the parts fit together. For a team this means being able to think beyond your own area; how you fit into the wider organisation and how you impact the customer experience and value proposition. This is about business sustainability, long-term success. Everyone is busy but just being busy is not enough. Long-term success requires long-term thinking.

7. Badly perceived, not delivering
A team has a team brand, an image and a reputation, created by the actions and behaviours of the team members. A large part of the perception is driven by how well the team delivers on expectations and promises made. As a team you need to make sure that everyone understands and takes responsibility for their role in creating the perception of the team. This includes both what is delivered and how it is delivered.

8. Poor change management
Change is constant and, unless carefully managed, it can be detrimental to teamwork and results. Change starts and ends with communication. Whenever you think you’ve communicated enough, you need to communicate some more – and it needs to be interactive; listen, talk and involve.

Be aware of the change curve, the four predictable stages of change are:

  • Denial/resistance
  • Emotional
  • Hopeful
  • Commitment
Each stage is needed but how long someone stays at each stage can be managed and kept to a minimum.

9. Working in silos
Silo working is a reality for many teams. Team members may sit side by side without really working together. A great team can be like the three musketeers – all for one and one for all. If you are in a team you may as well be really in it.

Working together in earnest is about making the most of the fact that you are a team. Honour your time and efforts by seeing yourself as a full time member of the team, not just an individual contributor. Imagine how great it would feel to be part of a team where everyone is thinking of the team and not just themselves.

10. Not going in the same direction
To walk in the same direction, a team needs to know where they are going or what they are contributing to (vision) and why (purpose). Spend time on this with your team. This clarity provides a framework and “reason to be” that can rally a team to work together. Keep in mind that visions need to be compelling and purposes meaningful. People respond to the importance of both.

If you want to create a great team, pay particular attention to behaviours. How we behave has an impact on others and affects how they behave. It’s when we change our behaviours that we can achieve transformational change.

Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn are the authors of new book Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions published by the FT.

This article was originally published on 28 October 2015.

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