Even with the best talent projects limp along. Mistakes happen. And 60% of teams fail to meet their strategic objectives!
Yet, teams remain the primary structure organizations use for getting work done. Many employees are on twice as many teams as 5 years ago, with 81%-95% actively serving on multiple teams simultaneously.
To help leaders and teams operate more effectively, we conducted network surveys of strategically important groups in a wide range of global organizations. More than 30,000 employees completed the surveys. Then, we interviewed 100 leaders of collaborative efforts in 20 organizations.
We learned about the positive collaborative drivers of success. But we also identified ways less successful teams were interacting. We found that team failure over time was often the result of groups falling into one or more of 6 network traps. These dysfunctional archetypes undermined performance in 88% of the organizations we’ve studied.
The good news is that we also identified steps teams can take to fix or prevent collaboration from derailing their success! Read on for a summary of each archetype of collaborative failure, the driver and remedies.
Summary of archetype of collaborative failure, the driver and remedies
1. Hub and Spoke
When excessive reliance on one or a small number of leaders or experts slows decision making, blocks innovation, alienates team members and overloads leaders.
What drives this pattern. A strict adherence to a command-and-control mindset, ego needs and fear of failure can drive leaders to behave in ways that impede collaboration. Team members can be overly dependent on leaders or experts, making them hesitant to act without approval or eager to seek validation. Fear-driven cultures amplify these behaviors. The structural elements of teams and organizations—the way in which roles, decision-rights and work processes are defined—drive this pattern as well.
What you can do: Reduce the information the central person is sought for, decisions they are pulled into, and/or work they are responsible for. Solutions include leadership coaching that focuses on what not how; distributing knowledge; integrating expertise through joint work; and revising decision-rights allocations, roles and/or incentives to shift the burden and engage the team more fluidly.
2. Disenfranchised Nodes
When some team members are marginalized and their ability to access resources and contribute to the team is stunted, negatively affecting group and individual performance.
What drives this pattern: Leaders elevate some group members and marginalize others, often by leaning on certain familiar people more. Favored team members begin to coordinate with each other, fueling a lack of trust by others in the group. Overload or onerous processes or decisions cause some members to become disillusioned and withdraw. Others are disconnected by virtue of status or physical location, for example remote workers are left out of the serendipitous ways that groups work when they are located together.
What you can do: Create a process or role for recognizing and rescuing the disenfranchised. Embed inclusion as a group value. Add touchpoints to give individuals a greater voice in or more opportunity to participate in the group. Use technology support (such as video) to overcome geographic disconnection.
3. Misaligned Nodes
When individuals and factions within a group don’t cohere, creating tears in the collaborative fabric that slow down work, creative toxic environments and undermine project success.
What drives this pattern: Distrust, disagreements or competition among leaders, functions or business units may be created by structural drivers, such as decision rights, or conflicting incentives. People may work at cross purposes due to goals external to the group. Over-focus on one’s expertise or adherence to personal/occupational values can block awareness around the importance of the capabilities that other factions provide and the value that might come from integrating them.
What you can do: Create and emphasize shared goals and priorities, reinforced by metrics and accountability. Establish forums to established value of group goals and facilitate trust-building. Set explicit processes to identify and address misalignments. Use exercises that enable members to connect outside the group context and re-set relationships.
4. Overwhelmed Nodes
When team members cannot keep up with the collaborative demands place upon them, leading to insufficient time for work, inefficient decision making, excessive compromise, lower engagement and ultimately burnout.
What drives this pattern: The growth of the group surpasses the limits of its design. Too much work is assigned by leaders or assumed by members, accompanied by poorly defined role and accountability parameters. Collaborative workload metrics and analytics are ineffective or missing, leaving many demands invisible. Over-inclusion—often driven by fear of making unilateral decisions or of being left out—contributes to people taking on more than they can handle.
What you can do: Redesign the structure and work of the group, clearly delineating roles, responsibilities and true interdependencies. Map impact-to-effort of new activities. Reduce low-value activities and re-balance work. Adopt and practice meeting and communication discipline. Define and respect roles and responsibilities. Empower members to say “no.”
5. Isolated Networks
When impermeable group borders block stakeholder input and external resources/expertise resulting in flawed decisions, innovation failures and misalignment with the organization.
What drives this pattern: Leaders or project practices—such as skunkworks or agile initiatives—purposely separate a group and cut it off from potential input or assistance. A group becomes too focused on optimizing the outcome based on its expertise or values and not the end need. Isolation or lack of integration with stakeholders creates an echo chamber of ideas; shifting context create disconnect and problems adapting.
What you can do: Engage in systematic inclusion of relevant stakeholders and influencers, including both positive and negative opinion leaders. Build in time for iteration with stakeholders. Focus on the outcomes from the stakeholder perspective, not just the execution process. Provide group with greater visibility into organizational goals and outcomes.
6. Priority Overload
When external demands cause group members to lose sight of their mission and highest priorities, resulting in execution and performance shortfalls.
What drives this pattern: An inability to manage demands on the team, as external leaders ask too much or set too many goals at once. Lack of North Star clarity/agreement among project leaders or overemphasis “one firm” culture. Personal aspirations and cultural values (such as servant-based mindsets and the desire to “just say yes”) lead to overcommitment.
What you can do: Map activities for external stakeholders. Review demands based on task and collaborative footprint. Force decision makers to make tradeoffs of demands or timing. Adopt priority definition process and mechanism or coordinator to screen incoming requests for help. Be transparent about workload and competing demands, and reset group priorities collectively.
When I present these patterns to leaders or teams, there is always an a-ha moment. This is us! Or, I’ve been on that team! Or, Wow, I can see what we’ve been missing.
Importantly, to move past the a-ha, I ask them—and encourage you—to select just one project or goal. Then assess whether the responsible team or broader network is at risk of collaborative disfunction. Talk to your colleagues about whether the collaborative patterns of your team or group are helping or hurting. And, if you see yourselves in one of the dysfunctional archetypes, don’t wait to make a positive change.
Learn to diagnose the collaborative practices of your team or group and take action using our new resources, the Agility Accelerator Tool and Team Agility Workbook.Share!