Manager or Team Failure – 5 Keys to Success

leadership management team Sep 15, 2020

When a team underperforms or experiences failure, who is to blame, the team or the manager?

In sport, sacking the manager is a public answer to this question, but what about in business? 

The question assumes full responsibility for failure on either the team or the manager, but what other factors should we consider?

You will have likely experienced working in a team or a group and been frustrated with either the team-lead (manager) or fellow team members. I know I have. Recently I found myself being ‘triggered’ by the behaviors of a group I belong to. The group is a global collective of coaches and consultants who contribute articles to an online magazine. The metrics are simple, provide relevant, well-written content by the 15th of the month so that the magazine can be produced and released at the beginning of the following month. What could go wrong?

Last month, I received an email from the team lead thanking me for my article and letting me know that the publication date had been pushed back a few days because four people were ‘struggling’ to submit on time. In these turbulent times, cutting people a ‘bit of slack’ seemed reasonable and I went about my business. A week later, I received another email saying that publication had been pushed back another week because several people had not submitted on time. This is when I got triggered.

As I reflected on why this upset me so much, I wondered whether it was my own orientation to responsibility and action, or whether it was my research for my 2012 book on Self Leadership, where I saw that culture is defined by the worse behavior a leader will tolerate?

When I took my MBA, back in the 90’s I remembered the agony of group projects, where there was always at least one member who didn’t ‘pull their weight’. The correct term for this is ‘Social Loafing’, the phenomenon of a person exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when working alone. So, was I triggered, by the unnamed contributors who had not met the deadline?

“Being triggered is unproductive unless it alerts us to reflect on how things can be better.”

The car-sharing app UBER was conceived by two friends, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, when one winter night after a conference in Paris, the pair were triggered by not being able to get a cab. So, if you are triggered by something, use this energy to make things better.

5 Keys to Manager and Team Effectiveness

  1. Set Expectations and Consequences
    In my experience, the number one reason that managers fail to create high performance is that they fail to set expectations and the consequences of non-compliance. A simple example would be meeting punctuality. “This is the meeting start time, and if you are not present you will not be admitted”. The manager, of course, needs to ‘walk the talk’, be punctual themselves and be consistent with enforcing the consequences.
  2. Buy-in and Ownership
    Members of the team buy-in to the team expectations and take personal responsibility. Buy-in happens when team members know ‘why’ the expectations have been set and are aligned to their purpose. Ownership happens when team members take personal responsibility for their own behavior and that of the team.
  3. Accountability – Calling it
    High performing teams hold each other, and the leader, accountable for the behaviors and results that the team. “All for one and one for all” is the language of a winning team. However talented an individual is, if they are not contributing to the team’s objectives, their behavior will be ‘called out’ and they are given a chance to correct.
  4. No Weak Links
    If a person or people have been given a chance to correct, but fail to do so, they are let go. As Jim Collins said in Good to Great, “Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus”.
  5. Celebrate Legacy
    Great teams celebrate each win, they celebrate each other, and they celebrate by passing on the wisdom of the team to new-comers – a legacy. You can tell a great team by the pride that team members show, and the impact that they have on those that would want to join this team.

 In sport, life, or business these 5-keys have been shown to work, time, and again. When these 5-keys are practiced effectively a strong culture is created, and strong cultures are key to success.

As a post-script, I ‘called out’ my writers’ collective team-lead and members. Whilst I’m sure it didn’t make me popular with everyone, the response was positive, and a tough conversation was had about the expectations of the group.

My maxim for winning teams is:

"Leadership is not a popularity contest, and full participation is not optional."

Holding people accountable can be uncomfortable and taking responsibility can be exhausting, but the consequences of not doing so are surely failure.

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