5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork

If your team has as much teamwork as a box of crayons without a child to guide them, don’t blame them. Consider what you may be doing to inadvertently sabotage their teamwork.

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork

  1. Insisting On A Team That Doesn’t Make Sense – I’ve seen so much energy and money wasted to improve the team dynamic when the real issue is organizational structure. A cluster of human beings is not a team. No one is bonding if the only common denominator is who they report to. If you can’t identify several common goals (beyond your performance agreement), consider the structure rather than organizing a team karaoke night. The best teams truly need one another to be successful. If you can’t change the structure, think harder about a few collaborative goals or projects that can get the team moving forward together.
  2. Ignoring The Obvious Dynamic – If everyone on your team is frustrated by one member, stop pretending it’s not an issue (yes, even if she’s an a player). I once worked on a team where one of our peers won a numbers-only based National recognition. Every one of her immediate peers understood the nasty back-stabbing dynamics beneath the surface. Our boss seemed to get it, but she got results, and results helped him. Instead of addressing it, he chose to call each of us individually and remind us of the right thing to do, to call her and congratulate her. The truth is, those calls had already begun. But his call assuming we couldn’t get there with her, reinforced the fact that we all had work to do in these relationships. Pushing us to be cooth was scratching the surface on a bigger issue that needed to be addressed.
  3. Fuzzy Vision – Teamwork blossoms when the group is inspired by a vision bigger than themselves. If all you’re doing is passing down organizational goals, you’re missing an opportunity to energize your team toward creating local magic. Everyone likes to be part of a winning team. See: Teams Need Vision Too.
  4. Misusing Your Staff Meetings – If you’re using your staff meetings as an opportunity for serial updates from your team, instead of a high-energy brainstorming of ways to collaborate, you’re wasting time. Trust me, everyone hates your meetings if all they’re really doing is reading out to you with no engagement from others. If you want your meetings to inspire teamwork, save updates for your one-on-ones, and then shorten the team readouts to what’s most relevant for the whole crew. Have updates conclude with statements such as and what this means to the team is or the implications for our team are. It will take a bit more time investment on your part, but the resulting teamwork will be worth it.
  5. Overusing Competition – Trash talk has its place, but it’s tricky. In many organizations there’s an unspoken stack ranking dynamic that’s already out there. See: 6 Secrets To Building Teams In A Stack-Ranked World. Instead of firing your team up to out do one another, reward the sharing of best practices and collaboration. Be sure that leadership toward the greater good and team behaviors are part of your performance evaluation and recognition strategy.
how to be a better team leader

How To Be A Better Team Leader: A Case Study

You can learn as much from a bad team leader as a good one. One of the best ways to improve your leadership skills is to be the leader you want your boss to be. What does that look like for you? What are the characteristics of a great team leader?

How to Be a Better Team Leader: A Case Study

“I used to be one of those disengaged reps, you’re talking about,” Mike a service rep shared in a recent focus group.

We were all a bit shocked by Mike’s statement. After all, this was a recognition focus group for the top reps in this enormous call center. Several of whom were on the short-list to become team leaders.

I smiled gently, my eyes pleading for this brave, young rep to continue. “My team leader was just terrible.”

The rest of the high potential reps turned to him in a chorus of disgust:

  • “It shouldn’t matter what your team leader does.”
  • “You are in charge of your career.”
  • “You need to do great work and people will notice.”
  • “You should care about the customers no matter what.”
  • It’s about building a bigger network.”

Mike continued:

“It’s more complicated than that. When I first got here I was so optimistic. I worked my butt off, but my team leader didn’t notice. He never said “thank you”. I got ZERO feedback on what I was doing right or wrong. We never talked about my career. So I gradually did less and less and got the same response. So I figured, why bother?

Then they re-shuffled the shifts and I got moved to a different team leader. Everything changed. This guy cared about me. He gave me great feedback. He shared all the career options available and we made a plan to get me ready to lead a team. He helped me believe I could do it. And now I’m here being recognized.”

Silence. The others still weren’t convinced. And for some reason, a little mad. I asked softly, “How many of you want to be team leaders?” All but one raised their hand.

You End the Story

Instead of sharing what I said next, let’s play with this:

  • What would you say next?
  • What questions would you ask?
  • What teachable point of view would you go for?

More resources to help you be a better team leader

FREE Winning Well Toolkit and Book Facilitator’s Guide

7 Questions to Ask Yourself to Be a Better Leader

Zappos, Leaders, and Cracker Jacks

Zappos has so many folks looking to benchmark their magic, that they offer a menu of ways to learn their playbook. Teaching culture has become a revenue stream. While the rest of us carefully guard our best practices, they offer you shot of Grey Goose, and welcome you to play along. Why?

My theory– they know we don’t have the guts to pull it off.

They’ve seen thousands of mesmerized execs return home to create more rules and standards that absolutely ensure a culture like that will never exist.

Cracker Jack Service

Chip Bell’s latest book, The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service offers easy suggestions to creating great customer service cultures. No Grey Goose required. He advocates for “Cracker Jack” service, differentiating experience through surprise.
It was not the colorful box of caramelized popcorn that enamored consumers; it was the free toy inside. While financially worthless it was emotionally priceless. And, it is a reminder of the clout of simplicity.
His advice is extremely simple. Build cultures of empathy, delight and surprise. But most of the LGL community in not in the C-Suite, making the big rules. You can’t build a Zappos from the bottom up. So, how do frontline and middle management leaders encourage creative, zappos-like magic within their existing cultures? I called Chip.

He shared,
“Customer service organizations rely on command and control when they hold a belief that the frontline is not capable of handling such responsibility. The downward spiral begins when the capable people react to that kind of treatment, by doing exactly what you’ve told them to do. Frontline leaders can structure the work so the reps find joy in the experience.
He offered this simple suggestion.

Ask reps to consider, “what’s something I could say to this customer today that would really surprise them?”

I’m off to try that.

I appreciate the conversation with Chip in the writing of this post. Chip is the author of 20 books, including Wired and Dangerous (co-authored with John Patterson) and Take Their Breath Away (also with John Patterson). He is a senior partner with the Chip Bell Group and serves as a consultant, trainer, or speaker to major organizations. Find his new book on simpletruths.com.

*Excerpt from INC: Ten Steps to Zappos Success

Stupid Idea or Seeds of Brilliance?

The young leader came racing in my office, his “great idea” bursting from his heart. He had a plan and was ready to go. I listened to his enthusiastic outburst with mixed emotions. He had energy, passion, and commitment. Good start. But, it was a stupid idea.

My inside voice screamed…

  • No way
  • This idea will never work
  • I’ve seen this movie before (it doesn’t end well)
  • He hasn’t thought this through
  • He’s such a rookie
  • Bless his heart
  • ?

Then two more thoughts.

How do I challenge his thinking while sustaining his passion?


What if he’s right?

Stupid Ideas as Sparks

Given the choice of watering down passion, or needing to light a spark, I pick the over-energetic fire every time. Many stupid ideas work. Stupid ideas make people rich. Others don’t.


  • ignite possibility
  • scaffold from experience
  • ask important questions
  • inspire past stupid

Sustain the Passion, Question the Process

9 Steps for Supporting a Stupid Idea

  1. Acknowledge “wow” be impressed by the passion, committment and energy
  2. Listen with an open mind
  3. Ask lots of questions (tone matters here).
    – Why this? (start with genuine curiosity)
    – What’s the bigger issue?
    – Why is this approach best?
    – Who’s involved so far?
    – Who should be?
    – What resources are required?
    – What are the potential side effects?
  4. Be honest in your apprehension.. share your concerns from a loving place
  5. Clarify the vision, and brainstorm additional ways to get there
  6. Listen more
  7. Consider a pilot
  8. Allow time to think
  9. Set up time to meet again

What would you add?

Frontline Festival-April 2013: Feedback and Coaching Edition

This month’s Frontline Festival is all about Feedback and Coaching. I am delighted by the outpouring of submissions. It’s an amazing line-up.

Courageous Feedback

Lolly Daskal, encourages us to take some risks in giving feedback in her post, We Need a Courageous Conversation “In most organizations, and in our relationships, we’re all so busy being polite with everyone that we’re either not aware of the breakdown, afraid of the breakdown, or avoiding it altogether. We kid ourselves into thinking that if we don’t deal with it, maybe it will go away. When we fail to engage and say what we honestly think and feel, our business performance will suffer. When what “goes unsaid” is not being said, our relationships will fail.” She offers, 10 approaches, my favorite is number 7. 

Blair Glesser takes a different stance in, Honestly Speaking, encouraging us to think well about if, when, and how we should offer feedback. She concludes, “Often the whole issue of whether or not to be honest dissipates when you tune in and connect with your heart. Your heart knows exactly what needs to be said and when, and it never is about the shallow stuff. Its feedback is always geared to bring more love to yourself, your loved ones and the world.”

Susan Mazza wins the prize for the post that made me cry (I won’t tell you why, just read it). In The Ultimate Source of Empowerment “People always have a choice even if they do not see that they do. A critical role of every leader is to bring people to choice.”

Encouraging Feedback

Dan McCarthy gives fantastic advice on encouraging feedback in, 10 Ways to Get More Feedback (and 5 Ways if You Can’t Really Handle the Truth). The best part is the 5 Ways to protect yourself against unwanted feedback. “I once had a VP tell me “I hate feedback”. I had to admire his honesty. Actually, a lot of us do, we just won’t admit it. So, if you really don’t want to find out about your weaknesses, and would prefer to keep your head blissfully buried in the sand, then use any or all of these 5 methods.” Perhaps you know someone who needs this post.

David Dye shares 6 practical ways to encourage more feedback from your team in his post, 6 Ways to Not Walk Naked Down the Street.  I can’t help but wonder what search terms brought folks to that title 😉 The best point, “It may take time, but if you begin asking for the truth, showing gratitude for input, and responding to it, you will earn trust, gain credibility, and have the information you need to make the best decisions.”

In her post, What it Means for Leaders to Show Up, Wendy Appel explains that encouraging feedback starts with how we “show up.” Ask yourself,” how do I show up?” Am I present? Do people feel and experience my availability to be there for them or am I distracted, on to the next thing, focused on what I want to say; the point I want to make, forcing an outcome I think is best?” I like this one because it’s advice packaged for daily use.

Robyn McLeod. of Chatsworth Consulting asks Are You Getting Honest Feedback? And then, offers 4 Ways to ensure you receive it. “To get the feedback you need, you have to encourage and invite feedback from others so they know it is OK to be honest with you. This ASK FOR IT model offers tips on how to do that”


Dan Rockwell shares 3 reasons you need a “coach” in 5 Sure Fire Ways to Spot a Great Coach, and then teaches us how to know one when we see one. Great, practical advice. A must read. My favorite, “Your ideas seem right because they’re yours – you need tough questions.” Dan’s got good ones.

I love this practical post from Jennifer Miller, Should You Give Advice or Coach?  “Giving advice is saying what you would do. It makes the conversation about you. Coaching helps people decide what they are going to do which is a far more powerful outcome.” The best part, she tells us how to do it.

Brian Smith shares Leadership Lessons: When Mistakes are Made Create a Teachable Moment. Although I might debate his reference to a roast beef sandwich as a healthy choice, his metaphor works. The best point, “You need to be able to separate the act (What the person did) from the person they are. (You’re OK; it’s what you did that isn’t.)”

“Being a good coach means putting others before yourself and always making decisions for the good of the team.” Here are a few tips from Tom Walter in his post, How to Be a Good Coach: Tips for Employee Focused Leaders. Some practical, easy to apply principles for front line leaders.

 How to Give Feedback

In his post, Give Frequent and Useful Feedback, Wally Bock advocates for frequent feedback. “Problems are like dinosaurs. They’re easy to kill when they’re small. But if you let them grow up they can eat you.” Don’t make feedback a once-a-year event. Make it frequent. Don’t make it an ego trip. Make it helpful.

Eric Dingler shares How to Make Feedback a G.I.F.T. by making it Genuine, Immediate, Friendly and Tailored. You’ve got to read his list of very practical suggestions. Eric’s posts are always actionable. His approach works.

Jon Mertz shares a sentiment I am considering painting on my office door, “Life is too short for unproductive drama and spoiled relationship,” in his post Go Hard on the Issue, Soft on the Person: 5 Leadership Ideas. He shares 5 practical tips to make that happen.

Jonathan Green, AKA Monster Leader, shares how to coach to REALLY tough conversations in his post, Dude You Stink: Coaching to Odor Issues. I know this guy. If you had to have anyone tell you that you smell, you would want it to be him.

This one’s fun and powerful. Ted Guloien of MU Field Management Research shares Giving Performance Feedback on American Idol. My favorite point,  “Concentrate on and attend to the other person, and not so much on your own feelings, fears or anxieties about providing feedback.”

Alli Polin explains why we all hate performance reviews in her post, Performance Reviews Don’t Have to Suck.  My favorite thought, “They suck because they’re more about process than the person.” Often true. Alli shows how you can do it better.

Feedback doesn’t work in shallow relationships. Joseph LaLonde explains that it starts with building real communication in his post, The Power of Real Communication. “It involves taking the time to get to know the employees. Finding out their dreams and passions. If things are going well at work. If their job is still fulfilling.”

Recognition as Feedback

Tanveer Naseer asks Are You Following These 3 Rules For Giving Feedback? He also shares the how to use the recognition more strategically as feedback. My favorite line, “feedback should make you hungry to achieve more.” Let it be so.

Greg Richardson highlights the importance of substantive recognition as a feedback strategy in his post, On Recognition.  The best point, foster peer recognition, “Receiving tangible recognition from a peer can be much more meaningful for many people than anything a manager can say.”

Personal Feedback

Peter Friedes shares an activity and an opportunity for a free assessment to help work with your blind spot in, Find Your Blind Spot: A Self-Reflection Activity For Managers

Jesse Lynn Stoner, asks a vital question in her post, Are You a Team in Name Only? “Do you really want a team?” A great example of feedback using provocative questions. Ask tough questions gets to root cause.

In his post, Start With the End in Mind, Mark Miller encourages us to look 30 years out to plan for success in 5 key areas of our lives (he’s also looking or a clean “F” word that means influence if you have any suggestions). He suggests you spend an 8 hour day planning (and giving yourself feedback) on how you’re doing in each of these areas as you make your plan. 

Chery Cegelman writes  Leaders are You a Candle or a Beacon? She encourages us to be in a constant state of self-feedback, “As you think through the meetings you have scheduled this week. Do you need to be a candle or a beacon?”

Next month’s Frontline Festival’s Topic is Trust and Transparency. Submissions due May 10th. The Festival will go live May 17th.

frontline festival

Frontline Festival: A Leadership Carnival for Frontline Leaders

I am delighted and humbled by the response to the Frontline Festival. I asked my friends and colleagues to share their best advice for frontline leaders. Wow! Read these posts and you will emerge stronger. Perhaps read one a day, you’ve got enough for a month. I am pleased to share their gifts with you.

I open the Frontline Festival with thoughts on beginnings from Steve Riddle of Lead On, Lead In, sharing When Did Leadership Start to Mean Something To You? The post will make you consider your own leadership journey. The best part is his video, his accent alone may encourage you to inspire leadership in others. My favorite question, “are you the role model that others have been for you?”

On Building a Frontline Team

Jennifer V. Miller of The People Equation discusses how leaders can be pulled in multiple directions when dealing with a challenging employee in Leadership Seesaw – Balancing the One with the Many. The best question, “are you balancing the needs with the one with the needs with the many?” I ask myself just that every day.

David Dye of Trailblaze shares tips for that awkward situation of being promoted over your peers in, But I Thought We Were Friends? I love his practical example, I’ve had conversations that went something like this, “as a friend, I am so sorry that stinks. As the team leader, I can give you tomorrow to take care of the problem, and then we will need you back.”

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership shares tactical advice for managing conflict in, How To Handle 3 Types of Conflict. I particularly like, “but if there is a problem to be solved, dealing with the emotions first sets the stage for problem solving.”

Leigh Steere of Managing People Better challenges us to move past stereotypes in finding talent and leveraging gifts in her Lead Change Post, 5 Uncomfortable Observations About Workforce Diversity She shares, “Our internal judgments come through, plain as day, in our facial expressions and body language.” Yikes, I do struggle with that one.

On Running Better FrontlineTeams

Dan Rockwell of Leadership Freak helps us decide when to help, in The One and Only Reason to Help. My favorite insight, “Real help takes people to the place they don’t need help.”

Jon Mertz at Thin Difference explores the concept of Infinitethink, how too many choices leads to indecision in his post,

Jesse Lynn Stoner of Seapoint Center shares a great model for running effective meetings in No More Boring Meetings. She shares a map energy flow in an ideal meeting (see left). Wow. I am going to strive for more of that in my meetings.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership, reminds us that you’re stuck with your company’s performance review system even if it doesn’t work for most people. And so he gives us practical advice in, Performance Reviews Made Effective. My favorite, “Spend time with your team members. Find out how they’re doing and have conversations with them. That’s a big part of how great bosses do their work, informally, “in the cracks in the system.”

Mike Myatt of N2Growth reminds us to involve the people closest to the work, when improving processes, and to consider what work we can eliminate in his post 100% of Companies Have a Process Problem. I resonated with, “Simplicity Matters: If your process isn’t simple, it’s going to be very expensive, not very usable, and probably not sustainable – put simply, it will fail”

Mark Miller of Great Leaders Serve reminds us that less is more when it comes to communciation in his post, One-Page Bias.  “A single page virtually always creates more buy-in and action than a 20-page report.”

On Frontline Trust and Integrity

Eric Dingler of EricDingler: Whole Life Leadership shares his techniques for building trust in both leaders and followers in his post, Nothing Leads Like the Truth. I like the line, “Nothing moves people more effectively then truth.”

Deborah Parker, of DPJ Training Group offers important and practical advice on establishing trust in her Lead Change Post, Commo Check: 11 Ways to Establish a Trust Message. Some great pragmatic advice, including “Know the audience by being alert and flexible to the circumstances.”

Gail Severini at the Change Whisperer shares her cry for more authentic, inspired leadership in Longing for the Endless Immensity of Great Leadership. “Real leadership is about who you are, what you stand for, and what you dream about.”

Joanne Corley of Management in Minutes reminds us to lead from who we really are in her post, It All Begins With You– You Are the Messenger I like her challenge “We start to live those roles so unconsciously that we lose track of what we really want in life and what role those roles play in that.”

What Motivates at the Frontline?

Robert Tanner at Management is a Journey takes a detailed look at the value of intrinsic rewards in, You’ll Need More Than Money and Benefits Who hasn’t faced a similar problem: ” Robert, I really need this employee to do his job! I pay him well. He has good benefits. I know he knows how to do the job because sometimes he gets it done. He just won’t do it! He has an attitude problem.”

Susan Mazza of Random Acts of Leadership share the importance of reinforcing positive behavior in, Catch Them In the Act. I like this post for it’s practical advice: Reward employees for “speaking up,” “stepping up,” and “standing up.”

Ed Rehkopf of Hospitality Resources International shares 7 specific ways to recognize in, Give Them More Than Just a Paycheck

Peter Friedes encourages us to engage in more “elaborative asking” on our team’s in his post from Lead Change Group, Managers Do You “Ask” Enough? He reminds us, “asking is enabling, telling is limiting, and ignoring is irritating.” Agreed.

On Facing Your Fears

Claudio Morelli also shares a Lead Change Group post about facing your fears to lead during tough time in Saddle Up and Lead. Claudio also recently started a blog of his own, Building Servant Hearts.

Lisa Kohn of Chatsworth Consulting Group presents Running is like leading – 5 key steps towards winning the race where she shares 5 steps for winning the race when faced with challenges of leading. As a runner, I just love the metaphor.

Jonathan Green of Monster Leaders encourages us to stretch outside of our comfort zones and learn across disciplines in his post Do You Know Jack: It’s Time to Become a Well-Rounded Leader? I am a big believer in cross-functional assignments, and this guy lives what he writes.
Next month’s Frontline Festival will focus on Feedback and Coaching. Be sure to tune back in. In fact, why not subscribe for your daily dose of leadership inspiration.

If you would like to be added to the call for posts, please send me an email at letsgrowleaders@gmail.com.