5 Common and Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Starting New Teams

5 Common and Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Starting New Teams

Many articles discuss the cost of a bad hire. The U.S. Department of Labor has put the cost at one-third of the new hire’s salary, while a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) report found that the cost be as high as five times the new hire’s salary.

However, no matter how steep the cost of a bad hire, it pales in comparison to what a failed, ineffective or inefficient team costs an organization. During our more than 10 years of helping connect teams, we’ve run across many mistakes that employers make with new teams that hurt their performance. Let’s look at five of the most common and damaging here.

1. Failure to Establish Team’s Purpose/Objective Quickly

Why does the team exist? If there’s no answer or a lack of clarity, the team will be inefficient and less effective than it should be, even if its members are highly talented. Time and effort will be wasted. Members won’t be on the same page. Frustration will occur. Over time, morale and engagement could plummet.

The problems will persist until the team’s purpose or objective is agreed upon. That’s why a team’s purpose should be determined and communicated as early as possible—ideally from the outset.

Two methods are used to determine a team’s purpose.

  • The Directed Method—Leadership determines the team’s purpose and objective. In a common scenario, the CEO and the head of the function collaborate to establish the purpose of the team.

  • The Collaborative Method—Less common and more challenging, this method involves team members having a structured conversation to determine the team’s purpose. Often consultants are brought in to provide structure and facilitate the conversation, and to offer an independent, unbiased perspective. This scenario is most common when leadership doesn’t have the knowledge to establish the objective, such as when a team’s work involves emerging technologies.

2. Fuzzy Roles and Responsibilities 

Have you ever been a part of a disorganized team? If yes, there’s a good chance the problems resulted from roles and responsibilities not being established and followed. When roles aren’t clearly defined, team members don’t know the scope and limits of their roles, and can make assumptions that lead to many problems—among them duplication of work, work not being completed, and internal team conflict as people squabble over who does what.

It’s important to assign people to roles that fit their strengths as much as possible. Sometimes a role mismatch is unavoidable, however. As long as the mismatch isn’t egregious, the situation should be workable provided that team leadership is transparent in acknowledging the challenge to the team member and provides him or her with the necessary support and resources to be successful.

The risk of roles and responsibilities not being established effectively is highest when organizational structures—which can help guide the assigning of roles—are not in place. In all cases, it’s important to have clear, specific answers for the following questions:

  • What roles do you need in the team?

  • What are the responsibilities for each role?

  • How does each role interact with other roles?

3. Failure to Communicate Outside the Team

Few teams operate independently from the rest of their organizations. Other functions and people within those functions need to know about the purpose of the new team and how they should interact with the team. Without this knowledge, people are left to make assumptions about the new team, and then behave and operate in accordance with those assumptions, which leads to inefficiencies and frustrations.

Unfortunately, poor or lack of communication with the rest of the organization is highly common. This failure seems to happen because executives—having spent time thinking about, planning and working on creating the new team—don’t recognize that the rest of the organization doesn’t know what they know about the team and makes assumptions.

As a result, when we help organizations create new teams we remind executives that others weren’t in the room for the team-creating journey, and include as part of the process a strategy for communicating to the rest of the organization.

4. Failure to Address Team Culture

A team’s culture can encourage and perpetuate success, or be a barrier.

An excellent in-depth Harvard Business Review article, “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture,” identified eight different culture styles used by successful organizations. Any of these cultures can be effective, but you need a culture that works for the team and your organization. For example, Tesla’s learning culture, which rewards flexibility and independence, probably wouldn’t work for Lloyd’s of London, which has a safety culture that rewards stability and interdependence.

When you create a new team, be purposeful about the desired team culture. The culture is largely formed by reward and recognition practices—which behaviors you reward and which you don’t—so make sure those practices, both formal and informal, align with the desired culture.

5. Failure to Invest in Team Improvement

Just as a successful relationship takes work, so does a successful team. No matter how well you set up the team, it will have weaknesses and problems that you need to address for the team to perform at a high level. Don’t let daily work and urgent projects get in the way of taking the time to work on the team. 

During our Team-Connect process, which is based on work by famed leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith, we ask team members to rate their teams on a 1-10 scale. What’s interesting is that when we do an initial evaluation, people typically give their teams a rating between 4 and 6—mediocre. This is an indication of the results you can expect if you don’t take the time to evaluate and address team issues.

To improve a team, the key is to identify specific areas of improvement. Most teams we work with set a goal of reaching a rating of 8 or 9, but making that jump typically requires addressing a number of issues. Some issues can be common across the team, while others may largely apply to individual team members.

Specific, actionable feedback is used to identify areas of improvement to address. In our work, we often use ratings on a 1-10 scale, as that allows us to measure progress over time. Once the feedback is delivered, team members must hold each other accountable. On a set timetable—we generally use every three months—individual team members should be evaluated for their progress against their commitments. Simultaneously, the team in aggregate should be evaluated for its progress.

How long should this process take? While we typically work with client teams for a one-year period, the best results occur when you never stop working on improving the team. Ideally, feedback becomes an integral part of the culture, nurturing better employee experiences and team success. 

For more info on how to effectively launch your new teams, email us at info@connectthedotsconsulting.com