How to Quickly Turn Around a Struggling Team

Once I spent a weekend, with a few friends, on a sailboat. We were sailing in a large bay visiting different coves and islands.

One day we decided to try to explore a different bay. The water seemed calm. To get there, we’d have to go out into the open ocean to reach it. But when we headed towards open water, the weather turned ugly.

I was at the helm. I am not an experienced sailor. As the wind and the waves rose, it became clear that the open ocean was not safe. We needed to turn around.

Turning a sailboat around isn’t like turning a car. When turning in a storm, there is a point where the entire side of the boat is exposed to the elements.

It’s easy to lose control, get swamped, or tip over. I didn’t know how to make that turn.

One of my friends, an experienced sailor, took over the helm. He knew how to prepare the boat for a turn — and how to execute that turn. He captained us back to safety.

Leading a team can be a lot like sailing a boat. When things are going fine — you can feel like you know what you are doing. But when the storms kick in — you find out what you really are ready for. Or not.

Five Common Team Errors — And How to Turn Them Around

It’s one thing to learn how to build a team. It’s another to know how to turn it around — when there is confusion, conflict, factions, underperformance. The recent experience with COVID has demonstrated that some teams became stuck in a state of malaise. Like a group depression.

All of these scenarios are “storms” and if they aren’t turned around, the team risks being wrecked.

Here are the five common errors committed when turning a team around — and their solutions:

  1. Not giving the team ownership:

Teams that are just told what to do — even by a brilliant, inspired, and charismatic leader — never assume responsibility for success. Without that sense of responsibility, they are less likely to prevent problems or recognize and pursue opportunities.

Solution: Engage the team in decision-making at as high of a level as you can. Include them in the risk/reward dynamic for success. The more teams share the risk and effort as well as the reward for success — the more likely they are to find ways to work together.

2. Avoidance or neglect:

All chronic or reoccurring team problems are really leadership problems.

This is true even if the “problem” is described as a problem individual or a conflict between a couple of the team members. If the issue has been allowed to exist — for some reason — a leader is allowing it. In those cases, the fastest way to turn the team around is to work with the leader. Not the team.

Solution: Deal with problems. Address issues. Do preventative maintenance. Don’t avoid hard conversations. Don’t tolerate poor behavior.

3. No follow-through:

Follow-through or accountability takes effort. And for some leaders, it feels comfortable. Many teams can be turned around simply by introducing the disciplines of ensuring follow-through. Upfront, I find that many leaders feel like this takes energy and effort. But as they build a habit out of creating accountability, they all find that the burden of management decreases.

Follow-through is easier when:

  • Expectations are clear.
  • Responsibility is assigned to one person.
  • Deadlines are given.
  • Metrics for tracking progress are defined and easy to use.
  • Follow-up on progress is driven by leadership.

Solution: Create accountability mechanisms from the beginning. Don’t wait until things are far off track.

4. Micromanagement:

Some teams are never really allowed to do what they can do. This is sometimes the result of a leader who manages too closely. Nearly always, micromanaging is a symptom of one (or both) of two issues:

Personal insecurity on the part of the leader

No tools to track team progress/quality without being present

Solution: Shift to leading towards outcomes. Clearly define success, the standards of it, and the resources available to achieve it — then let your team go. If trust and confidence issues continue, work with a coach or counselor to address those.

5. Misalignment:

Misalignment between motivations, methods, and goals creates problems. For example, a leader may be incentivized to keep operational costs low while the staff is incentivized to improve quality — which costs more. They will work at cross purposes.

Solution: When there are issues, look for potential misalignment and correct it. Make sure your entire team and their leadership are working towards the same goals, with complementary motivations and methods.

Turn-Arounds Should Be Decisive

When my friend took over at the helm, he was decisive in his orders to us and how he handled the boat.

When turning around a team, you need to be decisive as well. More teams sink due to indecision than poor decisions. Most poor decisions can be corrected. But it’s hard to steer leadership that won’t start.

Take good care,

Christian

Originally published at https://www.christianmuntean.com on June 29, 2021.