With over 25 years of research and experience, we have observed countless groups struggle with activities in our Team Building Seminars. These groups all had same common denominators, whether they were strangers or intact work teams, that became apparent during first activity in which they were asked to work effectively together.
At least four issues were found to inhibit these start-up groups from functioning as a team:
Task Fixation, Process Blindness
- Task fixation, process blindness
- Power struggles
- Fight versus flight
Individual members justify any behavior as okay if it contributes to achieving end-product – successful completion of tasks needed in achieving goal. Little or no concern was exhibited for how group functioned during (teambuilding) goal – process. We were able to magnify this view by placing time limits on performance of our exercises within team building seminar.
With this view, any means justify end, like sacrificing team members, forming sub-groups to exclusion of others, or not getting commitment of all team members, are justified under rubric of getting task accomplished: “We had to do that to get job done.” Who can argue with success, even if there were casualties along way? You can, if you were one of casualties.
In a new group that is fixated totally on task success, individuals focus on their own needs to exclusion of needs of others. There is no support, recognition that individual differences are a potential benefit, deferring of egos, brainstorming, seeking commitment, or flexibility. However subtle or covert, selfish competition is justified as necessary to expedite achievement of goal. Power Struggles
Internal conflicts generally make up part of dynamics when establishing a new group. Leadership: do we need a leader, who is going to lead, or will we follow appointed leader? Teams asked to perform leaderless tasks or act as a volunteer group struggle most with issues of leadership. In many of our team building seminars, groups explain that many of our exercises would have been easier if we had appointed a leader. Yet, after having experimented with appointing a leader, we observed group’s behavior remained same. The only difference is that one person, leader, becomes frustrated by his/her inability to get groups cooperation and battle for influence and power still continues.
Dominant individuals scramble to be recognized and gain influence with others. Disagreements over ideas quickly are positioned as win-lose alternatives. Accepting my ideas mean rejecting yours. We have seen high-achieving executives’ egos keep them from “dimming their headlights” and deferring to other team members.
Who’s in and who’s out is another conflict which often exists as part of dominant-individual struggle. Cliques, groups within groups, and “We” versus “Them” are terms used to describe this situation. In new groups this struggle is fostered by need to find someone who will support your (teambuilding) ideas. Once found, divisiveness of positions or lobbying for a majority vote starts. The “outs” resent “ins” and will resist their ideas, sabotage their plans, or simply refuse to be fully functioning members of team. Fight or Flight
Likewise, in many of our team building seminars, following fight or flight behaviors were observed:
- Unwillingness to listen to others
- Fear of speaking up or fighting for a position
- Low trust in other members, causing withdrawal
- Taking task too lightly
- Little group planning
- Silence as preferable to vulnerability
Regardless of behavior, result is same: team loses resources, energy, and creativity. Decisions are made and plans are implemented with less than total group input and support. It is frustrating to be a team member when fight or flight behavior is exhibited. Unless team is organizationally mandated to remain in existence, this dissatisfaction and frustration among members will cause it to perish. Stereotyping