10 Reasons Why Teams Fail

Here are 10 reasons why “teamwork” may not be bringing about success. Dangers lurk everywhere and can result from who your team members are, how the team is being managed, and what habits people follow. Read this article to avoid any surprises.

Why does teamwork sometimes feel so clunky? What are the employees and their managers doing wrong?

Does remote work hinder effective cooperation?

Some people believe that remote work – meaning not being in one working space – is an obstacle to effective teamwork. At Nozbe, we prove every day that this doesn’t have to be the case. In our company, teamwork is based on asynchronous communication powered by one-on-one chats and regular well-prepared meetings, if at all necessary. We don’t experience any difficulties; in fact, we work more effectively!

And there are many other remote companies that have also succeeded: Hotjar, Buffer, Automattic, Eventbrite, Basecamp. The key is to build a culture of teamwork and communication in a remote team and to make sure that these practices are followed (more on this later!).

What are the internal causes of the team’s failure?

Some of the reasons behind dysfunctional collaboration and a toxic atmosphere are due to its members themselves, who may have their own issues, temperaments, and habits that negatively affect their team and their work.

  1. Ego. When someone’s ego is more important to them than a team, project, or a common goal, it can cause strife and failure. This is the case when a person is more interested in performing well in front of their boss than they are in getting the job done. Perhaps they are always blaming others or perhaps they act as if they are too good to do the necessary work. Here, too, comes stubbornness and a strong attachment to their own methods and ideas. When working in a team, everyone must be open to new ideas, approaches, and experiments – even, and perhaps most importantly, the leader. Just because you’ve always done it one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

  2. Unhealthy competition. Healthy competition can be a good thing, especially in certain types of teams, such as sales teams – individual members can be motivated by gamification or performance bonuses. But when the competition goes too far, it can destroy the team spirit and create a “you versus me” situation that is not good for anyone.

  3. Black sheep on board. If even one team member only puts half the effort into their work – coming in late, finishing early, and checking their phone all day – it has a negative impact on the whole team. It is important that everyone puts in a full and equal effort.

  4. Letting emotions rule. Instinct, emotions, and premonitions are natural, but bringing too many emotions to work can be detrimental. A team member who always feels rejected when their idea is not selected, who sees disrespect (real or imaginary) in every interaction, or who takes stress and anxiety about a project home with them can add a toxic “vibe” to the workplace.

How poor management prevents the team from succeeding

The other factors that make teamwork difficult stem from the way the team is organized and managed. Here, of course, managers play the main role. Let’s look at the following factors:

  1. Micromanagement. When employees need to get approval or a signature for every activity they do, projects won’t move forward. The leader must trust that employees will make the right choices, and employees must feel comfortable asking for help when they need it. Balance is key here.

  2. Poor quality feedback. If management’s philosophy is to criticize everything without any praise, the team won’t go far. Constructive criticism (keyword: constructive) and generally well-worded feedback is crucial for employee development and for maintaining enthusiasm in the team.

  3. A close-minded hierarchy. Having too rigid of a hierarchy without a place for discussion, feedback, and the questioning of other’s ideas and suggestions – including those coming from the boss – is a recipe for disaster.

  4. Mismatching people to their roles. When people are in the wrong roles, their work is not as productive as it could be. The reason is simple: people work better when they have a job that aligns with their strengths. Unfortunately, managers and leaders often don’t have a clear picture of the qualities needed for each role and therefore may not understand what fit is best for the job. Fortunately, behavioral assessments and other tools can help shed light on which employees are best suited for certain positions.

  5. Lack of training. Not offering enough training can be detrimental. Adequate training would ensure the sustainable development of all employees, not only those who have space and time for it after work.

  6. Poor communication. When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, all sorts of problems arise: duplicating work, forgetting tasks, missing deadlines, etc. Communication is absolutely crucial in any team.

What to do to avoid problems in the team

Find communication system that everyone respects

It’s well worth establishing the rules of communication with your team in order to allow for a healthy team atmosphere, where nobody feels disadvantaged and there’s no room for toxic ego. These could be some of your rules:

  • We speak to each other respectfully.
  • We judge behaviors, not people.
  • We remember that work is about achieving a common goal.
  • We give ourselves space to say what doesn’t suit us.
  • We talk about our feelings; we do not generalize.

For this to succeed, you need to establish communication channels and a kind of etiquette – do we call each other with little things, or do we respect each other’s time and patiently wait for feedback? Do we contact each other during weekends? Do we call meetings, or do we stick to written communication?

Use the Pyramid of Communication

communication pyramid in nozbe

We call it the “Pyramid” to emphasize how we want to communicate in the team and to illustrate the proportions of the various communication channels.

  • We want to spend as much time as possible at Level 1 on deep work.
  • We then move to Level 2 to get feedback from other team members.
  • Often, but not always, we need to clarify things on Level 3 in private messages.
  • Or, to quickly discuss ambiguities in a one-on-one conversation, we head to Level 4.
  • Finally, if the situation so requires, we gather all involved colleagues and call a meeting at Level 5.

Through this method, we allow each team member to complete as much work as possible, disturbing each other as little as possible and only asking for feedback when necessary.

Embrace asynchronous communication

From our own experience, we recommend that teams use the model of asynchronous communication, as it fosters focus and provides the team with the possibility to get back to the discussion when they’re able to in written form.

In the asynchronous model, a message can be sent at any time – regardless of whether the recipient is ready or not. An example of such a message is an email or – even better – a task assigned in Nozbe or another application. The recipient can respond when they wish or when they can.

Synchronous communication is completely time-dependent – it requires absolute timing of everyone. Responses are expected immediately, which is not always feasible and can interrupt important work and focus.

Strengthen work culture and company values

Team spirit flourishes in structures where employees are shown trust. Where leaders, instead of controlling and rebuking employees, try to facilitate their work and motivate them to grow.

The aforementioned rigid hierarchy – in which the manager is a grey eminence, to whom it’s better not to speak and certainly not to suggest changes or criticize – does not serve the team.

We also highly recommend that you hand over responsibility for projects to employees who contribute the most in a given project. Becoming project owners, they will feel agency and freedom, and they will get more involved.

Offer flexible working hours and Mighty Fridays

We do not have fixed working hours in our company. It is up to you to decide when to sit down in front of the computer, taking into account your tasks, best performance, and other individual factors. We are evaluated based on 100% trust in our employees… and, in fact, based on the results of our work. We all like what we do, we feel good at Nozbe, and we strive to achieve our goals. Each of us is aware that the company’s success contributes to the success of individual employees.

On Fridays, in turn, we encourage you to focus on “sharpening the saw,” i.e., personal development, learning to use new tools, improving qualifications, etc. At Nozbe, this form of a four-day working week is called Mighty Fridays, and we’ve been practicing it for many years. Furthermore, we haven’t noticed a drop in productivity or turnover – quite the opposite!

Hold quarterly meetings with the manager and retrospections

Thanks to quarterly talks, we have space for conversation and feedback to discuss what didn’t go well and what turned out great.

The whole team participates in the retrospection and everyone knows that they can thoughtfully express their dissatisfaction or disappointment, talk about problems, and look for solutions together.

Quarterly meetings with your immediate supervisor are a place for more individual and personal opinions. We evaluate our cooperation, plan improvements, tell each other what we like, what supports us, and what makes our work more difficult.

Summary

Team collaboration – both in the office and remotely – can work well. All you need is openness to feedback, trust in each other, and the belief that together you are doing something important and fun.

Magda
One of the Nozbe team "dinosaurs" - #NoOffice practitioner since 2013. Extravert, neurotic & vegetarian feminist with 189 imperfections.