Transforming a business is complex enough without creating problems for yourself. One of the most common self-created issues is under-performance of the program team and it is usually avoidable if the team is set up and motivated by a good leadership team. Understanding the most common threats to effective team-working allows us to prevent them from happening – what are those threats?
- Confusion About Who Is On The Team: amazing though it may seem, change often gets under way without a clear picture of who is doing what. Sometimes, people don’t even know that other people are working on the same team. A kick-off to introduce everyone to everyone else is crucial. The kick-off also needs to ensure that everyone knows their own responsibilities and each others.
- Cultural Differences: the barriers to team working that culture can put up are significant. From obvious things like linguistic barriers and misinterpretation to a desire to never say ‘No’ to people and therefore set misleading expectations, culture has a great part to play in success or failure. Transformation programs with cultural separation need to identify the gaps, agree a strategy to close them via strong communications, and embrace all staff in the closing of those gaps.
- Motivation Decay: teams can make a fast start but maintaining momentum can be a challenge on large, complex programs. Motivation can decay for a whole host of reasons – one effective technique is to have regular achievements and make sure that the team gets to celebrate them.
- Poor Coordination: results in a failure to manage program interdependencies between projects and between the program as a whole and its environment. Every interdependency is a form of risk that needs to be managed and an inability to coordinate effectively normally leads to the crystallisation of risks and a the creation of unpleasant surprises for the management team.
- Competition With Other Teams: this is an interesting point because competition between teams in innovative situations can be extremely powerful. However, it is not suitable for everything and on a transformation program the tendency is usually to need teams to work cohesively together to achieve shared goals. Too much, badly aligned competition can prove detrimental as teams concentrate on ‘beating’ the other team and take their eyes off the benefits that the program as a whole needs to achieve.
- Political Influences: can adversely affect the composition of your team. You know – the guy who’s been appointed to keep an eye on you on behalf of someone who doesn’t trust you? The person who turns up, throws in a hand grenade and then walks off chuckling to themselves as they watch the explosion; and they’ve no accountability or responsibility to speak of. The key here is to make sure that everyone has a role – or they have no role and that the Sponsor stands up to ensure this is the case.
- Poor Leadership: the best team in the world can be undermined by poor leadership and direction. The famous formula: Decisions + Actions = Results, is highly relevant for transformations. If the team is working at 100% capacity and no decisions are coming then it’s not long before things grind to a halt. Worse still, leadership that changes its mind constantly creates a zigzag path to delivery, creating more cost, complexity, time and risk.
- Geographical Separation: dispersed teams have to deal with time differences, sub-optimal communications and different operating or regulatory environments. That said, when it comes to achieving things a geographical spread can be helpful as work passes from team to team, creating a 24-hour working day. The challenge here truly is a management one – identifying the optimal way to work across geographic boundaries whilst recognising local needs is crucial to success.
- Insufficient “Testing”: is the death-knell of many software projects but in this context testing means something else. As teams form, storm, norm and perform they tend of also harmonise behind a view that everything they have decided to do is the right thing to do. Sadly, they can develop dysfunctional norms and take decisions which appear to be correct within their own frame of reference but which soon collapse when subjected to scrutiny and challenge. It is the provision of this scrutiny and challenge that we refer to when we use the word ‘testing’ in this context.
We would love to hear from you about your experiences of facing threats to effective team-working and what you did about them. Please let us know what you think by contributing to our blog.