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When Teamwork is Just Not Working: 5 Ways Behavioral Insight Can Improve Team Effectiveness

July 17, 2023

By: Jennifer Lucas

What do you do when a team is just not working? We see it happen all the time: people are thrown together because their expertise is needed on a project, and even though everyone knows what to do, they just can’t seem to get it done together. Meetings go nowhere, and everyone leaves frustrated. Or meetings go everywhere but where they’re supposed to go, and everyone realizes afterward that they made no headway.

Let’s say your company wants to build a website that can figure out what a customer needs before they need it, (who wouldn’t want that?!) and you can’t outsource any of it. But that’s ok! Because your company already happens to have a web designer, a copywriter, a programmer, a marketing expert, and a psychic. You put them all on a team together and explain what you want. You give them a budget and a timeline and tell them to make it happen. Six months later, the only thing they’ve done is decide on a name for the website, and two people are no longer speaking to each other.

What happened?

You’ve made the mistake everyone makes when they have a great idea: you’ve forgotten to factor in how complicated people are! People are more than the sum of their knowledge or skills. You may have a contributor who knows every step that needs to be taken to complete a project, but they don’t want to seem too pushy by making suggestions. Or they get talked over. You may have an idea person who sees opportunities others don’t, but another person is intent on sticking with a plan that may not be working anymore. Someone wants something done yesterday, even if it’s wrong. Someone else wants another month to think about things.

1. Identifying a Leader

Sometimes the person who has the most knowledge or the most applicable knowledge is not the ideal person to lead the team. Let’s take the example above: the most critical component of the idea is the ability to predict a customer’s needs, so it would make sense to make the psychic the team leader, right? Except, no. Because of his psychic abilities, he is often influenced by everyone’s opinions, and that makes him a terrible decision maker. Plus, he doesn’t want to lead!

Being a team leader is a little bit of a balancing act. The best ones can be assertive without being too forceful, willing to speak up but also willing to listen, able to delegate but also prepared to contribute. How do you determine who that person is? By using behavioral cues:

  • Assertiveness: They tend to take the lead in other areas (especially outside of meetings). These people are a little comfortable with risks and taking on new responsibilities. But they don’t need to win every point or outshine everyone else.
  • Communication: They speak up – but not first, last, and always. Conversations with them have plenty of give and take.
  • Delegation: They take their own work personally but understand they can’t do everything.

Note: Team leader roles give people who don’t usually want to manage the opportunity to build some experience in the leadership arena. They also give people who may want a chance to step out of the background opportunities to prove themselves. Naturally cautious people can be comfortable leading teams for projects with lower stakes, fewer people, or where relationships are highly functional and well established. More ambitious people tend to be willing to tackle bigger projects with larger groups and higher stakes.

2. Communication

To work on a team together, everyone needs to communicate. The highest performing teams are the ones where everyone communicates the same way, right? Wrong! (Sorry, that was a trick question). The highest performing teams are the ones where everyone communicates effectively. You could have a group of extroverts who are all about brainstorming, but they let conversations get away from them at meetings. You could have a team of introverts who keep putting off meeting altogether. You could have a mix, with three people doing all the talking and three people never saying a word.

A high-performing team is the one that gives everyone a voice, even if it means sharing ideas in different ways and in different venues. If everyone in the group loves to talk and can’t get enough of meetings, make sure there are limits to the number and length of the meetings. Set an agenda and stick to it so the meetings are productive.

If everyone in the group are introverts, they should never have meetings at all. Just kidding. Some meetings really are necessary, but planning is critical. Give plenty of warning and provide a clear agenda in advance. Tell people what they will be expected to share, and encourage follow-up emails. Sometimes more reserved communicators keep things to themselves because they don’t want to interrupt anyone.

When you have a mix of communication styles, make sure everyone gets (and takes advantage of) chances to both talk and listen. Be prepared to curtail conversations that run too long. Watch out for people being talked over. Touch base outside of a group meeting with people who didn’t do much speaking. Some people communicate best one on one or in writing.

3. Managing Conflict

Disagreements will arise in a team. Some are a normal part of working within a group: everyone’s points of view and stakes are different. Some are a little more complicated, maybe caused by one person who just likes to argue or always needs to win no matter the cost. The team leader should be prepared to arbitrate contentious matters and help the team move forward. If every meeting or team interaction leads to a fight, more intervention would be needed by leadership outside of the team arena.

Sometimes too much agreement is as ineffective as too much conflict. Watch for team members who are overly willing to acquiesce to others or take on more than their fair share of work. Which leads us to…

4. Equitable distribution of responsibilities

There are some behavioral characteristics that lead to people taking on too much work and some that lead to delegating too much work.

Big-picture people may want to leave details to those who are more meticulous. Meticulous workers may not want to leave tasks to people who aren’t. A match made in heaven, right? Sometimes, but not always. Even people who don’t love details can be careful when necessary. And people who LOVE taking care of details to ensure precise results can overextend themselves (and still make mistakes). They can each deprive each other of important team experiences: chances to innovate, to learn, and to overcome personal challenges.

Team members who want to be very helpful might agree to do work that is outside of their abilities or areas of expertise (or time availability). And individuals who want to be in charge may push project components on others that they should be doing personally.

If everyone is bringing different skills to the table, there will need to be times when some contribute more than others. But the rest of the time, work should be distributed as evenly as possible.

5. Setting a Pace

Timelines are tricky things. Ideally, every important project should be completed yesterday — or sooner. (Does that psychic have a time-traveling friend?) Someone’s preferred pace is another behavioral trait that can impact team effectiveness. You have your speed demons and your slow-and-steady people, and they must work together to make sure a project moves forward without skidding out of control.

To find that balance of urgency and patience in team performance:

  • Make priorities clear from the start.
  • Set regular checkpoints to make sure progress is being made and hold everyone accountable.
  • Encourage flexibility but give plans a chance to work before making changes.

Harnessing the power of behavioral cues can be a game-changer when it comes to improving team effectiveness. By paying attention to nonverbal signals, communication patterns, and individual preferences, teams can identify the best ways to work together and achieve goals. And you don’t even need to be a psychic to do it!

If you want more help keying into your team members behavioral characteristics, contact the Omnia Group to try our quick and powerful behavioral assessment. Contact us today, and get your team on track.


Also read: 

Redefining Leadership: Embracing the Power of Servant Leadership in the Modern Workplace
Addressing Conflict to Build Team Unity
5 Revolutionary Personalities in Today's Workplace: A Look at the Founding Fathers' Personality Types
Ready, Set, Grow! 5 Steps for Cultivating Talent in your Organization

Jennifer Lucas

Jennifer originally joined The Omnia Group in 2005 as an analyst. After a brief stint away to work in project management and to start a family, her fascination with behavioral assessments pulled her back. She returned in 2011 as a member of the in-house analyst/project team. She writes and edits Custom Profiles, Targets, special projects, and articles. She enjoys being able to provide guidance to build effective, productive teams and help find strong matches for both clients and candidates.

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