by Andrew Day, Business Director at Ashridge Business School
Transitions can occur when an existing leader retires or departs, for example, leaving team members struggling to adjust to the different style or approach of a new incumbent. A restructuring or change of strategic direction may require the team to behave differently and tensions can arise as members try to balance corporate goals with individual needs.
Team coaching can do much to help an organisation’s leadership navigate through tumultuous or unpredictable times, while continuing to run the business effectively.
In my experience of working with leadership teams, the most common derailers arise from unresolved dynamics around authority, member relations or relations outside of the team. These can lead to 10 common derailers:
1. Power struggles for leadership and control
Tensions between leaders and followers can sometimes arise around the way power and authority are exercised in the team. This is common during periods of transition when the executive team needs to make shifts in the way it connects and works together.
2. Absence of leadership
If the group is ambivalent about power and control, the issue of leadership can be avoided. This results in a dynamic whereby no one is prepared to exercise leadership, take up their authority or make decisions. Equally, if teams are left without a clear leader at the helm – perhaps because of an unexpected departure – the team can quickly lose its focus and connection with overall goals and objectives.
3. Idealisation of the leader
At the opposite end of the scale, teams can sometimes fall into the trap of ‘bowing down’ to a strong and charismatic leader. The leader is put on a pedestal and team members are so caught up in their adulation that they overlook the need to challenge and question.
4. Unhealthy competition within the team
Sometimes the balance between the task of team and the needs of individuals within it can get out of kilter. People may be so intent on pursuing their own agenda and jostling for position that they lose sight of what it is they are there to achieve.
5. Group think
Highly cohesive teams can easily fall into the trap of ‘group think’. They fail to critique their own thinking and cannot see that the lack of different perspectives may be holding them back. This can result in misguided judgement and the failure to see significant and risky consequences of a decision.
6. Avoidance of conflict and difference
Some teams are also conflict averse. They actively steer away from issues they know will cause heated debate or discontent and don’t understand that diversity of views can bring value to the team.
7. Interpersonal conflict between two or more members
Personalities can sometimes get in the way of progress. Strong characters may lock horns or get themselves into entrenched positions it is difficult to escape from. Such dynamics can significantly undermine team performance.
8. Scapegoating or blame within and outside the team
A key sign of a dysfunctional team is when members are seen to frequently point the finger of blame at colleagues when things don’t go according to plan. They may try to make ‘scapegoats’ out of weaker members or abscond responsibility by placing blame at the doors of others outside of their direct control.
9. Failure to learn from experience
Teams can sometimes become blind to the fact that they are repeating the same mistakes over and over again without stepping back and questioning the assumptions they are making. Our view is that the most effective teams have the capacity to learn from experience.
10. Disconnection from the organisation
At times of change, executive teams can become disconnected from the organisation. They are unable to tune into the mood of the business and cannot sense when employees have become disengaged and unwilling to follow the lead they are trying to set.
Team coaching has a role to play in helping derailed teams get back to peak performance so they can achieve organisational objectives. A team coach can be a real catalyst for change, helping teams negotiate shifting environments and come to a better understanding of how to manage the dynamics of the group for themselves.