One of the most important things leaders are tasked with is building a team. When teams come together, ideally you get the right mix of talent, motivation, trust and alignment to achieve the objectives at hand.
Building a team is an often overlooked skill in the book of management and can be difficult to get right but there’s a helpful framework, Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing that talks to the stages of team development by Bruce Tuckman.
Forming is when the team comes together, usually folks are excited about the possibility and learning from each member, then there is storming when the team starts to feel some friction, people are less polite and may bump heads as they work through how they’ll function. Next, there is norming — folks settle down, expectations align and finally there is performing, where the team is synced — goals, objectives, work styles and personalities are understood. Performing should be the unlock where the team actually begins performing. However, when forming a team there are some major derailers that can occur that I call team killers, where progression is replaced by retrogression.
Here are the top five team killers to look out for:
1. The Brilliant Jerk
The brilliant jerk is highly intelligent and talented but they are equally caustic and disagreeable. The problem with the brilliant jerk is their immense value is diminished because no one likes them and therefore cannot work with them. The team can never get past storming. Goals fall behind, objectives aren’t met and as a leader, you have to deal with all the complaints about the brilliant jerk and are reduced to team referee on top of all your other duties. Oftentimes, the trade off for intelligence and talent is not worth sacrificing the entire team and the overarching mission.
2. The Gossip
It’s one thing to share information and communicate effectively but it’s another when it devolves into gossip. If you have a gossiper on your team, they can impact how the team is formed. Rumors can have a corrosive effect on team dynamics where a whisper can become a shout, if unchecked. If people are talking behind the backs of others and stirring up drama, it can adversely impact morale, team cohesion and cause needless thrash.
Again, as a leader you’ll be pulled into the muck as you deal with hurt feelings, complaints, and workplace toxicity. As a leader, you must proactively shut down the gossiper when their behavior diminishes team effectiveness by emphasizing the importance of professionalism and only communicating verified information.
3. The Project Team Laggard
When I was I college, there were always group projects and there would be a collective exasperation when a member of the team was the laggard, the person who never contributed but wanted the credit.
In the professional setting, if a laggard is left unchecked, they can create resentment, perpetuate burnout and workload imbalance on the team. After all, the whole point of the team is the collective and equal contribution.
If you have a chronic under-performer, as a leader you either need to find a way to help them meet their potential or consider parting ways.
4. The Information Hoarder
The info hoarder is typified by priding themselves on knowing key information and then not sharing it with the team. Information flow and effective communication are bedrock for high performing teams. When a hoarder mentality is present, it creates a single point of failure because an individual member has all the information that is critical to advance team initiatives.
Taken further, when information isn’t shared, it impacts the decision making process, creates silos within the team and increases duplication of efforts due to communication break downs. The more access to timely data translates into more informed decisions.
It’s important to make sure the team operates with a spirit of inclusion — meaning proactively including others in updates, news, sharing of resources and other valuable information that aids the team in performing. When everyone has the same information, the team can move in the same direction, with greater precision.
5. The Interrupter
The interrupter talks over colleagues, hijacks meetings, taking up too much space sharing their thoughts while not making room for others to share theirs. The interruptions can have a chilling effect on team dynamics and create an environment that stifles the creativity of the group. The best idea should win, not the loudest voice.
As a leader, it’s important to set the tone and demonstrate that listening is just as important as speaking. There’s a number of approaches to curtailing the interrupter — better moderate the interruptions by setting a meeting agenda, solicit everyone’s opinion, appoint a rotating team member to run the meeting, asking that people use the raised hand function (if you’re using Zoom) and more directly, provide the interrupter with feedback about their tendency to monopolize the conversation.
At the end of the day, you are building a team, so keep an eye out for folks who have these characteristics or you’ll otherwise get stuck and never get to the ideal state of performing.
Simon Sinek may have put it best when he said, “It’s better to have a great team than a team of greats.”