“There’s no ‘I’ in 'team'!” You may have heard this saying once, twice, or a thousand times. Whether during sports, a school project, or a business meeting, this saying has made the rounds to many individuals who find little motivation in a cliché spelling lesson. And although the technicalities may be true, the meaning just doesn't resonate. There is an "I" in team — many of them. And each individual can impact how the team functions as a whole.
Instead of drilling the overused “teamwork is key” speech, focus on the individuals on your team, and the common excuses they give when project hiccups arise.
Here are five “I”s that can contribute to why your team isn’t getting stuff done:
1. Poor Prioritization
"I didn't think that was a priority."
Priorities are a common misunderstanding amongst teams. This can stem from miscommunications right when tasks are assigned, or incorrect assumptions about the importance of a task. These mistakes can affect the trajectory of the entire project if they're not addressed right away. Even when a task is assigned and flagged via email, it can be difficult to know what should happen next.
Instead of driving yourself mad tracking down which email was sent to whom and when, consider changing your work processes. There are several task management platforms, like Wrike, that allow you to prioritize (and reprioritize) a task list to tell your team what they need to complete first. Throughout the project life span, you and your team can go in and see what tasks need to be completed ASAP, and assign due dates and available team members accordingly. Some tools have dependency features, so you can make any task dependencies clearly visible for your team and they'll know what needs to get done first.
2. Undefined Team Roles
"I wasn't sure who to ask."
Clearly defined roles within a team are extremely crucial for both project success and team growth. This response may come up a lot in a team where responsibilities are not explicit. Questions are ignored, forgotten, and, at times, presented to the wrong person — who then gives an incorrect answer. Undefined roles can also lead to team members taking on tasks that don't fit their expertise. This problem sets the team, and project, up for failure.
One of the most important roles to define is the team leader. Whether that person is yourself, a colleague, or multiple people, your team needs to know whom they can turn to for questions, progress updates, and changes to the current plan. Defining this role gives your team a solid foundation and direction.
3. Accountability Issues
"I wasn't aware that was my responsibility."
Tasks are assigned during meetings all the time. Even followed up on through email. Yet this excuse continues to be popular when tasks aren't completed. It may not have been clear who exactly was responsible for the task in the first place. Someone could have missed a meeting, skipped an email, or simply forgotten, and without a proper project tracking tool, there was no way for either of you to know the task was sitting in limbo.
Scott Blanchard, co-founder of Blanchard Certified, also finds that accountability problems stem from alignment problems with the overall goal of the project. If you don't share the overall project plan, your team members may have trouble seeing the purpose of their task and its importance to the overall project — so they don't hold themselves accountable for quality work.
Tools that allow you to clearly assign individuals to tasks as part of larger projects will help eliminate accountability errors. In most project management tools, a team member will be notified once they are assigned to a task, so there is no confusion on what needs to get done and who needs to do it. One of our well-known customers, Redfoo, uses Wrike to help manage his brand and both of his companies, Party Rock Records and LaFreak Clothing. Before Wrike, Redfoo and his team were struggling with accountability. Now, they open up Wrike during meetings to assign task owners as they're discussed, in a tool where everyone can see the new responsibilities.
“It’s really hard in a company like ours, where we’re all creative people, and we’re trusted by our boss to accomplish tasks on our own,” says Charlie Pearl, Brand and Social Media Coordinator at LaFreak. “Wrike creates a timeline and makes it clear who’s assigned to what, so that there is no confusion.”
4. Inability to Resolve Conflict
"I find it really hard to work with her."
Team members don't always have to be friends, and sometimes they won't be. But workplace drama is not a good excuse to miss a deadline or perform poorly on a collaborative project. As a team leader, it's important to know that most damaging problems don't necessarily occur when a conflict arises, but when it's ignored. According to a study on team conflict resolution, a whopping 95% of the workforce struggles to speak up when problems arise. This may also lead to bigger issues, like wasting time ruminating over the issue, or permanently damaging employee relationships.
When resolving conflicts, the best advice is to nip it in the bud. It may not be easy to confess to a mistake, or to talk to a team member about their error, but it's important to fix problems immediately before they get worse. Avoid pointing fingers and placing blame. Accidents happen, so it's important to remind yourself and your team members that you have a common goal, and that your intention is to address the conflict ASAP so everyone can get back to achieving that goal.
5. Lack of Vision
"I really just don't see the point."
One of the most crippling reasons that teams don't get work done is a lack of shared vision. A negative outlook may not only affect one person, but your whole team. If the ultimate goal is not clear to the whole team, then every team member will view a project's importance, urgency, and crucial steps differently. This can lead to divisions within the team, and may waste time as you figure out how to accomplish tasks. It can also damage productivity due to lack of motivation or enthusiasm for the project as a direct result of not seeing the same vision.
One way to avoid this is by writing out clear, tangible goals before any work begins. This way, the team can start on the same page, and the important goals can be referenced when disputes arise. They also make team members feel like their role is crucial to the success of the project, because they can clearly link back their tasks to the vision. When each team member has a purpose, they are more likely to get the job done and do it well.
What are some other reasons teams are unproductive?
Share your experiences, along with your solutions, in the comments below. We'd love to learn from you!
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