November 22

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10 signs you’re underinvesting in your team

Here’s a shocking fact: The average team comes in at just 55% when we measure team health and performance across 5 dimensions.

Like you, I’ve been in teams good and bad. At their best, the sense of cohesion and synergy is phenomenal. My last couple of teams at Cisco had exactly that dynamic - collegiate, results-focused, and a lot of fun. However, we’ve all experienced team situations where there’s conflict, mistrust, apathy or a general lack of ability to execute.

The average work team scores just 55% against an objective measure of health & performance #leadership

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As the survey results show, most teams are operating at only half their potential. As I argued in The Owner’s Dilemma, this is because the laser-focus on product and customer actually results in an underinvestment in people and in building a clear model for the organisation.

This has the result of jamming the brakes on the very business the product/customer work is trying to accelerate!

The obvious next question is: how would you know if you are under-investing in your people?

Here are 10 symptoms I often see in the course of my leadership consulting work. How does your team measure up?

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(I’m interested in your views on what you would add to the list - please let me know in the comments section.)

1. You don’t trust each other

Your team wants to win, and is pretty task-focused. But the trust isn’t there, the openness isn’t there. You talk business but the relationship stops there. In this context, no-one really wants to take a risk, to discuss weakness or failure, or go the extra mile for the team.

What this means: You’ve been so task-focused, you’re not spent enough time understand each other’s stories. As the leader, you’ve not modelled the vulnerability that creates the environment for others to open up. Or you’ve abused the trust that’s already been given. 

2. There’s relational drama unfolding

Some conflict unites, some conflict divides. But if you’re finding gossip and drama bubbling up in your world, you have an issue. Performance takes a dive as sparks fly.

What this means: People don’t feel secure - and there aren’t clear expectations of how conflict and disagreement are to be handled. We find the ‘go to the source’ model particularly relevant here, helping interpersonal issues to be nipped in the bud by the people in question.

3. Your meetings are lopsided

Lopsided meetings happen all the time: 20% of the people do 80% of the talking. The silence of several in the team is interpreted as agreement - but in fact, it’s just as likely to mean that they don’t feel comfortable speaking up.

What this means: You’ve not implemented ‘rules of engagement’ that bring the best out of the different personalities on your team. You’re likely missing essential perspectives that the louder voices tend to overlook.

4. You’re struggling to get the best from some employees

You’ve got your favourites, your high-performers, and that’s great. But some people on the team seem to be struggling: they’re disengaged or cynical, or they’re just not having the level of impact and influence you’re sure they should have. You’re out of ideas about how to get them back on track.

What this means: If you’d bought a pot plant, you’d be looking at a withered, barely-alive specimen now. You’d have to ask yourself whether the plant received the right amount of light, water and food for it to truly thrive. The same applies to your team. Do you know what makes them come alive?

5. You’re not clear where you’re headed

You suddenly realise that your team are great what they do, but performance has plateau’d. You realise that people no longer get excited about the team’s mission, ambitions and shared future.

What this means: Many teams are heads-down on execution, and clarity can dissipate over time as the business and environment changes. It’s probably time to review your organisational model. What are we truly aiming for - and why? What do we stand for? How do we want to show up together?

6. You’re team isn’t as aligned as all that

Meetings are getting tedious. Decisions are getting harder to agree on as a team. Sparks fly on occasion as quite different views on execution priorities emerge. You realise that your team isn’t as aligned as you’d hoped.

What this means: This is again an organisational clarity issue, though it does depend also on healthy communication and relationships too. If those are in place, then it’s probably time to revisit roles, responsibilities, strategies, structure and tactics.

7. You’re firefighting too often

Too much stress and drama is coming from short term ‘fire-drills’ and your team is being distracted from longer-term and more significant goals. You feel you’re running hard just to keep still.

What this means: You’re prioritising tactical capability at the expense of the strategic. Put simply, you’re more focused on cure than prevention! You’re not influencing external stakeholders and setting appropriate expectations. In fact, you probably don’t even think it’s possible…

8. Certain people aren’t delivering

Certain members of the team can’t be relied upon to follow through on their agreed-upon actions. This creates stress amongst the rest of the team, who have to burn cycles figuring out what the situation is and then doing the extra work themselves. Resentment starts to grow, especially as all the mission-critical work ends up falling on the shoulders of those who can be relied upon.

What this means: This is typically an accountability and skills issue. See whether you’ve created a ‘protector culture’ where the hard conversations about performance simply aren't happening. And review whether you havea consistent ‘team operating model’ that keeps people accountable.

9. Your key leaders are maxed out

You, and perhaps a couple of other key performers, are maxed out and unable to pass responsibilites to more junior team members. As a result, you’re unable to get to the next-level set of initiatives that will take your impact up a notch.

What this means: Your leadership bench is bare; you’ve not developed your employees to have the necessary hard skills, soft skills and self-awareness to take a new level of responsibility. And so you’ve become capacity-constrained.

10. Your team members aren’t growing much

Individuals within the team have stagnated; they’re pretty much doing what they’ve always done. Expanding team capacity seems to be dependent on over-burdening the high-performers, or on recruiting more people.

What this means: You’ve been too focused on your short-term task world to take the initative and proactively develop the team. Until you kickstart personal growth in your team, your collective performance is going to remain pretty stagnant.

10 signs your team is underperforming.  How many of these symptoms do you recognise? #leadership

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There is a better way

So those are 10 warning signs that you’re underinvesting in your team. The question is - are these just ‘the new normal’ that you are willing to accept? Or are you prepared to do something different to get a different result?

Unfortunately, most approaches to this problem fail. However, we’ve found there is a way to systematically achieve a new level of team performance. More on that in a future article - feel free to reach out directly if you don’t want to wait until then!

P.S. If you’ve not taken the 2 minutes to get a quantified assessment of your team health, why not complete the brief survey below?


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