Teamwork Problems and 7 Barriers to Effective Team Functioning

Twisting your attributes into a mask of pain, you dig your heels into the soft grass. A rope tears into your palms. A clear, miniature voice speaks to you towards the numerous confused thoughts swirling in mind: So… what am I learning from the experience?

teamwork problems

Well, if you are like many who have done this exercise in a corporate retreat, you should really be learning about teamwork. As the others join you, the collective rope-pulling attempt seems to demonstrate the point. Little by little, the boulder begins moving before it nudges over the 30-foot mark. Cheers erupt. But you detect something. With every additional person who contributes to this campaign, the boulder moves faster, but not as fast as you’d have imagined. By the time the tenth individual steps up, you feel that the group is barely pulling harder than once it had been only six, even though everyone seems to be running hard.

This well-documented phenomenon, social loafing, is a problem that plagues any group of individuals working together, but it isn’t the sole one. Knowing what to watch out for can be half the battle. Below are the best 8 teamwork problems common you should know.

1. Absence of team identity. Members may not feel mutually accountable to one another for the team’s objectives. There may be a lack of commitment and effort, conflict between team goals and members’ personal goals, or poor collaboration.
2. Difficulty making decisions. Team members may be rigidly adhering to their positions during decision making or making repeated arguments rather than introducing new information.
3. Poor communication. Team members may interrupt or talk over one another. There may be consistent silence from some members during meetings, allusions to problems but failure to formally address them, or false consensus (everyone nods in agreement without truly agreeing).
4. Inability to resolve conflicts. Conflicts can not be resolved when there are heightened tensions and team members make personal attacks or aggressive gestures.
5. Lack of participation. Team members fail to complete assignments. There may be poor attendance at team meetings or low energy during meetings.
6. Lack of creativity. The team is unable to generate fresh ideas and perspectives and doesn’t turn unexpected events into opportunities.
7. Groupthink. The team is unwilling or unable to consider alternative ideas or approaches. There is a lack of critical thinking and debate over ideas. This often happens when the team overemphasizes team agreement and unity.
8. Ineffective leadership. Leaders can fail teams by not defining a compelling vision for the team, not delegating, or not representing multiple constituencies.

In searching for problems that teams face, I discovered professor Michael West’s (2008) listing of barriers to effective teamwork that I think is better and more detailed. Dr. West is Professor of Organizational Psychology at Lancaster University Management School. He has spent most of his career conducting research into factors which determine the effectiveness of individuals and teams in work. 7 Barriers to Effective Team Functioning :

1. A lack of team purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).

2. A lack of freedom and responsibility. Creating a team and failing to give them the freedom and authority to act is like teaching a person to ride a bicycle, giving them a bike, but then telling them they can ride only in the house (West, 2008).

3. Too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).

4. An individual-focused organization. “Teams are set up in many places in the organization but all of the systems are geared towards managing individuals…Creating team-based organizations means radically altering the structure, the support systems, and the culture” (West, 2008, p. 309).

5. Team processes are neglected rather than developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).

6. Directive instead of facilitative leaders. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors are directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, instead, is facilitative and seeking. This leader’s role is “to ensure that the team profits optimally from its shared knowledge, experience, and skill” (West, 2008, p. 309).

7. Conflict with other teams. Ironically, the more cohesive and effective a team becomes, the more competitive and partisan they tend to be in their relationships with other teams throughout an organization. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that interteam cooperation is established and reinforced (West, 2008).