10 Thoughts About Failing Teams

Phil Cooke explains what hinders teams—and what allows them to flourish.

1. We don’t understand what teams are for.

Leaders make decisions. Teams execute decisions. Simple as that. Stop delegating decision making to your team. That’s your job. In military terms, a team can decide how to take the hill, but it takes a leader to decide which hill to take.

2. Stop valuing everyone equally.

There’s no question that everyone is equal in terms of intrinsic worth and human value. But don’t get that confused with the individual talent and skill members of your team bring to the table. Celebrate talent and stop ignoring it.

3. We don’t know how to deal with high achievers.

The key to managing high achievers:

• Treat them differently than low achievers. Your low achievers may be wonderful people, but they’ll stifle your high achievers. Reward achievers and give them more incentive.
• Give them the resources they need, and then get out of the way. Don’t thwart sharp people. Let them rock.
• Separate them from low achievers. (Nothing drives high achievers more nuts than having to work with low achievers.)
• Pay them what they’re worth. Don’t be petty with salaries when it comes to your best people. Above all, don’t treat all your employees to the same salary scale.
• Give them deadlines. Don’t be afraid to add pressure. High achievers thrive on pressure.

4. Our insecurities create failing teams.

Insecure leaders are afraid talented team members will make them look bad. Insecure team members get offended way too easily.

5. We don’t fire enough people.

When Jack Welch was CEO of General Electric, he said: “When you don’t fire underperforming members of your team, you’re not only hurting the organization, you’re hurting them—because you’re giving them a false sense of what success is.”

Help those people find a new position—don’t be rude or kick them to the curb. Help them find the place where they can blossom. But get them out of a position where they’re failing. And by the way, you need to understand the difference between “loyalty” and “competence.”

6. We don’t understand that successful teams are about talent, chemistry and vision.

Talent. You have to get people with the right skill set. I love Jim Collins’ concept in Good to Great. You’ve got to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

Two things are important:

1. Chemistry. You have to get people who will get along.
2. Vision. You have to get people who have a vision to change something.

7. We don’t realize that culture is more important than vision.

I know plenty of powerful, visionary leaders who have created an oppressive, dark culture. Create a powerful, creative culture, and trust me, a vision will happen.

8. Whoever invented the “open door policy” was an idiot.

Well, he might have been well-meaning, but there’s a time to shut the door and get to work.

9. Our teams are too big.

We don’t accomplish much because there are too many opinions. More than six or eight people in the room just creates chaos. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has a great idea: Never have more people in a brainstorming session than you could feed with two pizzas.

10. Our team meetings are too long.

After about 40 minutes, people start wandering—checking emails, looking around the room, or talking to each other. You simply can’t accomplish much in marathon meetings. Keep them short and sweet, and your productivity will shoot up.

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