Learning & Development

10 Practices to Overcome the Pitfalls That Divide Teams

Without a doubt, teams in the workplace have the potential to tap into the diverse perspectives that all members bring to the table. This larger pool of information can be helpful in making better decisions within an organization.   

conflict resolution

Unfortunately, teams often fail to live up to these reasonable expectations. In fact, social sciences literature shows that teams often make decisions that are only as good as the typical person on the team and almost never outperform the best team members. This is ironic because the reason organizations prefer teams is that they can make better decisions than individuals alone could make. 

More often than not, teams fall short of their full potential for these reasons:  

  • Unclear expectations 
  • Role ambiguity 
  • Culture of individuals 
  • No leadership support 
  • Lack of trust 
  • No team cohesion 
  • Lack of creativity 
  • Fear of decision 
  • Personal conflict 
  • Culture discourages feedback  

The overarching problem is that when a team gets together, so many things can go wrong. Although a recent survey identified teamwork as the number one skill employers want from college graduates, many team leaders, as well as team members, don’t attend to the many pitfalls that can impede teamwork.  

Top 10 Qualities of Effective Teams 

To overcome the pitfalls, team leaders can improve their teams’ cooperation, productivity, and innovation by following the top 10 qualities of effective teams.  

1. Clarify obligations and expectations. One of the best ways to clarify obligations and expectations is through conducting a “Workplace Covenant” process. In brief, a Workplace Covenant is an honor-bound set of commitments to one’s work partners. It begins with the exchange of obligations and expectations, with a focus on “What can I do for you so that you’ll feel supported and can be successful?” The team discusses, refines, and documents the behaviors, then uses the covenant as a basis for managing and continuously improving how team members work together while feeling supported. 

2. Define roles. When roles are ambiguous, it’s hard for teams to succeed. Effective leaders and team members spend time clarifying the important roles—both social and task-related—that keep the team working toward its goal.  

3. Create a unified team culture. When teams reward and recognize individual work, it encourages people on the team to focus on individual efforts. A unified team culture emphasizes and rewards the team’s success. 

4. Support your team. A team won’t succeed without the team leader’s support. Teams perform at their best when their leaders go above and beyond in their efforts to support them.  

5. Improve trust. Teams can’t succeed when they don’t trust their leader or the other members. Trust, however, is bilateral. That means to earn trust, a person needs to be trustworthy. Team members and leaders build trust by being transparent and delivering on their commitments. 

6. Build cohesion. Cohesion is more than the members of a team liking one another. In fact, it’s the sum of everything that makes people want to remain part of the team. A cohesive team has a clear mission and vision. Everyone’s contributions matter. Additionally, cohesive teams make time for social aspects that build camaraderie. 

7. Encourage creativity. If given the right opportunity, everyone can be creative. Team leaders encourage members’ creativity by recognizing creative ideas even when they aren’t implemented. They also give team members time to develop creative solutions.

8. Allow mistakes. Making good decisions takes practice. Rather than penalizing or even ostracizing members when they don’t make a great decision, team leaders allow for mistakes and use them as opportunities for learning.

9. Develop fruitful friction. Successful teams regard useful conflict as “fruitful friction.” A cohesive team in which the members trust one another and feel safe working together can disagree about important issues they need to resolve. When these disagreements are regarded as fruitful friction, they lead to more successful outcomes.

10. Solicit feedback. Teams learn through receiving feedback. However, feedback goes both ways. Those providing feedback should also make sure to solicit it. This is where an ongoing Workplace Covenant process can help, as it creates a psychologically safe place to engage in exchanging feedback. 

Timothy M. Franz, PhD, is an organizational psychologist, a professor of psychology, and a chair at St. John Fisher College. In addition to his academic role, he works as an organizational consultant through his firm, Franz Consulting. Seth R. Silver, EdD, is the principal of Silver Consulting, Inc., and has worked with hundreds of diverse clients on leadership, cultural change, employee engagement, and workplace success. Silver was also an associate professor of HR development at St. John Fisher College. Their new book, Meaningful Partnership at Work: How the Workplace Covenant Ensures Mutual Accountability and Success between Leaders and Teams (Productivity Press, Aug. 27, 2021), provides a powerful model of how work partnerships can be created and sustained. Learn more at teambuildingprocess.com or silverconsultinginc.com