Why Your Team May Suck

Businesswoman in bright office getting bored while attending presentationDoes your team suck? Well, it may not be because of the people but because of the environment you team works in. Studies have shown that the collective cognitive ability of a team does not have any effect in predicting the team’s performance, either high or low. The environment, on the other hand, may play a significant role with a team’s ability to perform. But what do I mean by environment? Here are six environmental factors that can help your team perform at a higher level.

Have a Purpose

You’ve got to have a clear mission. Without a common purpose the team will simply meander. David Thiel suggests that “The single most important ingredient in team success is a clear, common, and compelling purpose.” But there is more to this than just having a purpose.   Ask your team; why are we here, and what is the desired outcome? When all of your team members are working towards a common purpose it is easy for everyone to see if the team is on the right track or headed in the wrong direction. This then makes changes in performance easier to implement.

Empower Team Members

Next, top performing teams also report having a high sense of empowerment. Specifically, having the authority and ability to affect change and achieve the desired outcome. Empowerment is also a byproduct of having access to the information needed to make decisions and improve a process or broken function. If your team members can’t see how their efforts impact the team’s outcome then they won’t change their behaviors.

Get a Rhythm

High performing teams also exhibit a distinct rhythm. They meet regularly (often daily) and have short, informative and action focused meetings. A common format for a daily huddle may include:

  1. How are we doing? The Numbers: 3-5 key metrics per functional department and 3-5 company KPIs.
  2. What’s up today? What are team members working on today to get the team to their goal.
  3. What’s stuck? What are the roadblocks? You don’t have to solve it, just state what issues are keeping you from moving forward.

Think in Terms of Processes

Another characteristic of high functioning teams is their ability to think in terms of processes. This includes having clear roles defined for each member of the team. Without having clearly defined processes it is nearly impossible to effectively diagnose the root causes of problems affecting the team’s performance. When you there is a well-documented one best way of doing each task, troubleshooting problems or issues becomes easier. This way of thinking aligns your people and their work.

Think Visually

It’s important to see the company’s performance. This allows you to quickly identify problems or opportunities and see the effect of implemented improvements. It’s important to choose the right KPIs and update them as quickly as possible. Any lag in the reporting of information can greatly affect the performance of a team.

Work on Problem Solving

Finally, the best teams are really, really good at solving problems. But you don’t have to be a master at problem solving to have a big impact. Take, for example, a team that makes a few big wins every a year. Assume a 20% improvement once a quarter. Compare them to a team who makes small incremental improvements each week. Say 3% a week.

Graph comparing results from small consistent improvments to big less consitent ones.

Both impressive numbers, but given the choice I would take the team making small but consistent improvements compared to bigger less frequent ones. Not only do you get move overall cumulative improvement but you also don’t commit as many resources (time) for each improvement.


Try using a few different problem solving methods such as “five whys” and “fishbone exercise”. With a little trial and error you will find the one that best fits you and your team. Finally, you need to have systems in place, preferably visual signals, to alert you to problems and root causes.


Your team may suck but chances are it isn’t beyond help. We hope these ideas spark some life into an otherwise lifeless team.

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