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Failing Teams and Company Dysfunction: How HR Can Bridge the Gap

By: Debbie McGrath

Friday, March 01, 2013
 

Posted to HR.com by Linda Sharkey, global managing director and partner, Achieveblue

When individual employees work well together and form strong teams, they can be driving forces for a company’s success. Conversely, when a team does not work well together, it can hold a company back and generate a contagiously negative attitude. It’s your job—and privilege—working in human resources to create dynamic, strong teams that help move your company forward.

Telltale Signs of Poor Teamwork

You want employees who are organized as a team to function like a team. Any evidence that individuals see themselves as separate from the group effort is a bad sign.

Problems arise when employees start pointing fingers, complaining about others, acting as though their work is more important than others’ tasks in the organization, or stop being accountable for jobs they agreed to complete. These divisive actions work counter to teamwork and collaboration.

You also can see signs of trouble in employees’ general attitudes toward work. Sometimes, people are apathetic—they only do what they’re told, without offering to help others grow. They may feel threatened by the successes of others, or you may struggle to fill open positions because leaders don’t believe in the development of others. If you see these actions around the office, you may need a full overhaul of your talent system, as well as a deep look at the culture that’s developed in your organization.

How to Recruit New Talent

I ensure that every leader I work with keeps a list of individuals who could be great for their various teams. Identify the people in your organization with a lot of potential. Even if you don’t have new roles for them now, cultivating relationships with emerging talent early will make it easier to attract them when the time is right.

Get to know and understand people’s aspirations and strengths, and explore their ideas for improvement or change. A personal relationship with them, relative to their work and career goals, will make it easier to create appealing roles for them and for your organization. Most people don’t spend time getting to know emerging talent, but it’s important to form a relationship with high-potential employees. Invite them to a group dinner, or hold a roundtable discussion with these promising individuals. You will learn as much from them as they’ll learn from you. Explore what excites them and solicit ideas for innovation you may not have previously considered. While this takes energy and may feel like extra work, the payoff is great when you’re trying to recruit and retain great talent.

How to Add New Team Members

When looking to recruit new team members, ensure you have a firm understanding of the culture of the team or group. Adding someone completely countercultural to the group can cause tension.

However, if you want to change the current culture and need different behaviors and thinking, another approach may be required. You may be looking for certain characteristics, rather than someone who just fits the team well. If this is the case, make sure to provide support for the new behaviors you’re introducing. If you don’t, your organization will reject the new cultural elements like antibodies fighting a virus.

In any hiring situation, think ahead to what might be needed several years out. I see many leaders hire for a job as it is today, without thinking through what role an individual could play in the organization in the future, or without thinking through how the job may stretch to meet changing customer needs. If talent does not see opportunities for career advancement or learning new skills, they’ll move on to other companies. Additionally, you will have talent that fits well for today’s challenges, but people who may not be able to flex to meet new challenges.

How to Build a Strong Team

Many companies conduct team-building exercises that amount to little more than fun and games. While this may lead individuals to interact on a new level, the bonds that form are not always lasting. Adults need to see a real benefit and purpose behind working as a team. This can be accomplished using team-building strategies that align with the organization’s business strategy and purpose.

My best practices revolve around using reliable assessments of the current team’s performance, as well as the individual behaviors that optimize the team’s work. I gather data from subordinates that reveal the impact of great teamwork; it also demonstrates when the team is not working together effectively. Ask what this team is like at peak performance, and how the group can clone that behavior. You want to gain a clear picture of what great teamwork looks like for each specific group.

This is not a question you ask only once. Building great teams takes time and effort, a constant dialogue and a personal commitment to change. Otherwise, the team will remain stagnant. You want real movement, not just good intentions. To keep team-building efforts alive, you must follow up on the initial efforts, offer coaching and reinforce behavioral changes.

Help the group attain real experience working together to build for the future, understand the new behaviors required and practice the new behaviors regularly. Create an environment in which the team can give each other feedback. Foster honest communication, which requires regular and consistent discussions. And, as HR leader, be a role model for good communication and feedback. Finally, measure progress at the team and individual levels to ensure accountability. MF

 

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