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Team Ingredients - what happens when one of them is off?

In any simple recipe, if one ingredient is 'off', the end result is spoiled - and the same goes for the 5 ingredients needed for great teamwork!

Whether inside or outside of work, being part of a team is great….when they work.

There is no better feeling than when a team is working well together. All pulling in the same direction, toward the achievement of a common goal, overcoming adversity and challenge along the way.

But the opposite is also true. When a team has issues it’s a hideous place to be! Everything is so much harder, it’s stressful, unrewarding and can feel very isolating.

And everyone suffers - the individuals in the team and the project or organisation they are working for.

Dysfunctional teams have next to no chance of performing well or producing the results expected of them. In fact, they often just make things worse for the wider system they work in.

Problems with teams arise when there’s something wrong with one of the 5 essential ingredients for high performing teams that feel great to work in.

What’s the day-to-day impact of a team ingredient that’s ‘off’?

The single most important ingredient and the one that causes the biggest/most frequent issues is 'Great Team relationships and a psychologically safe environment' and answers the question ‘what’s it like to work in this team’.

The rest create clarity for the team, answering the questions why, what, who, how, when, and what if? Without these, there is room for misunderstanding, misalignment, wasted time, wasted effort and frustration. Making sure these ingredients are in place frees up time and mental energy for each team member to focus on the real value they bring to the team.

Here’s a selection of some of the more common things that happen when one of the ingredients is off.

Poor team relationships

Funnily enough, poor relationship skills lead to bad relationships within the team, a lack of trust and respect and ineffective teamwork.

Here are just a few tell-tale phrases you might hear when the relationships aren't working so well

  • They just don't understand!! They're missing the point.

  • What they're asking for is impossible!

  • I just don't understand what I'm supposed to do

  • It's pointless trying to say anything as nobody listens.

  • How can they possibly think that?

  • Why did they think that was a good idea?

  • Why can't they just do what they're supposed to?

A psychologically un-safe environment

Without the right attitudes for good teamwork, trust, respect and collaboration easily evaporate and fear takes over. Fear of conflict, of being punished or being judged badly for saying or doing the wrong thing.

An environment of fear

  • Inhibits clear thinking. It prevents people from doing their best work, stifling creativity, risk-taking and learning. All things that are needed for great teamwork.

  • Stops people from asking for help when they need it and can lead to people hiding their mistakes. Both invariably lead to bigger problems emerging later on, when there is less time or opportunity to resolve them.

  • Can easily result in people striving for an unattainable and non value-add level of perfection in order to avoid criticism or blame. This means tasks will take longer than they really need to (ineffective) and can lead to overwork, stress and a knock-on impact on individual and team performance.

  • Can lead to 'the blame game' and lots of wasted time and energy, building the case for or defending accusations of 'wrong doing' or unmet expectations. Time that could otherwise be spent on more productive work.

  • Makes it really hard to debate, disagree challenge or be challenged and the ‘gift’ of feedback and the value in a team's combined strengths and diverse thinking is lost.

    • Team members will be more hesitant to give feedback and likely to be more defensive when they get it. The opportunity for learning from events disappears.

    • The team is less likely to develop or perform to their potential. The synergistic effect of working with others is compromised.

...and fear of someone taking credit for your work or ideas destroys trust and collaboration. Excessive self interest or self promotion by just one person can lead to resentment, and impact the performance of the whole team, proving that

There really is no 'I' in team.


One bad apple spoils the bunch!

Lack of common team purpose

Without a common team purpose, the team is at risk of pulling in different directions or not delivering what is needed and expected of them. Leading to more disruption to 'put things right'/get back on track when it's noticed.

Lack of buy-in to the team purpose leaves team members struggling for motivation to put the effort in that's required.

Being clear on the team purpose is essential for preparation and planning. If you're not clear on what you need to deliver, how can you make sure you have the right resources in place to deliver it?

Missing - clear roles and responsibilities

This may seem like a fairly obvious thing to establish, but it’s surprising how often these aren’t clear.

That can result in you feeling like someone else is trying to do what you thought was part of your job or you can end up overworked as you try to do more than you really need to.

It can also result in things being missed completely as they 'fall between the cracks' between unclear responsibilities

Agreed ways of working are missing or not clear

These may seem a little dull, but it’s amazing how much time can be wasted and how much frustration it can cause if these things aren’t in place and known. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Without agreeing team standards and being clear on the link between individual performance and team performance, individuals may

    • become more focused on achieving just their bit rather than being focused on achieving as a team...which can damage team performance

    • set their own standards and get frustrated when the rest of the team doesn’t obviously share or respect them.

  • Lack of clear decision making strategies/escalation paths leave the team ineffective.

Inter-team dependencies aren't clear

When the dependencies between teams aren't clear, all the same issues can arise as for an individual team, but on a wider scale.

A couple of issues that crop up regularly....

  • Siloed working, with the actions of one team causing issues for other teams or stakeholders.

  • Not having clear responsibility for relationships outside of the team can lead to "many to one" contacts between a team and its stakeholders, potentially taking up more time than necessary and causing stress for the 'one' and also carrying the risk of conflicting messages from the team.

These are just some of the things I've witnessed.

How about you? What might you add to this list?

And what can you do to avoid all this?

  • Team coaching can facilitate reflection and discussion among the team, helping them find options, solutions, consensus and agreement and resolve any issues with any of the 5 ingredients.

  • Coaching as a team and/or with individual team members can provide the support needed to develop the skills, attitudes and relationships needed to address any specific challenges.

If you would like to discuss this in more detail or would like to explore how I can help with your teams, please book a free call.

And if you'd like to make sure you see all of my blogs, sign up here for my monthly email.


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