7 signs it's not really a team

November 29th, 2017

In my world the word team is used almost on a daily basis. Most of us want to be in a team environment. However, in my experience working with churches — and it was true when I was in business also — more people claim to have it than actually do.

I still see more control than empowerment. I see more internal silos than I see true cooperation. I see rules and policies being used to restrict actions — or “protect” the organization – than I see freedom to explore as individuals within the healthy structure of a defined team objective.

I’ve learned to look for a few signs when someone tells me they have a team environment.

Here are seven indicators it’s really not a team:

One person makes all the decisions.

Most who think they have a true team culture will skip this one, because many times they don’t even see it happening. But if everyone has to wait for the team “leader” to make a decision — or if things continually stall because one person hasn’t yet voiced their opinion — it’s probably less of a team than proposed. On a team, at some point, everyone sits in a seat of authority. There is a mutual trust and empowerment of others.

Everyone doesn’t have a key role.

On a real team, all players are needed. They may not all play the same amount of time and may fill different positions, but everyone is valued.

There are multiple agendas.

One thing that makes it a team is that everyone is playing for the same objective. Without this there is more competition than there is cooperation.

Communication is controlled.

Teams share information. They continually update one another on what they are individually contributing to the team and weigh in on decisions. Team dynamics are damaged when only a few people know everything or when the most important conversations are held — or decisions are made for the team — outside the team.

Conflict is seen as a threat.

Healthy teams work through conflict and remain cooperative and supportive of one another. Everyone is allowed to challenge ideas and offer opposition, but only in a way that can make the team stronger and help team members learn how to work better together.

Every person is for themselves.

The greatest value of a team is in the collective wisdom and shared workload. Healthy teams cross-train so they can pick up slack for others when needed. When teams function more as individuals than as a team, members can become overwhelmed, frustrated and they eventually burn out.

Celebration is received individually over collectively.

There will always be moments where one member is getting more recognition than another. But, on healthy teams, wins are celebrated together. No one claims personal credit for the victories.

Those are a few clues that tell me it’s really not a team. There are certainly others. (Be a part of my team and add your own in the comments.)

You can call it what you want — maybe a group, or an association, or even an organization.

But it’s not a team. I might instead call it a crowd.

One way to process this post is to discuss it with your “team.” Perhaps even let them respond to it anonymously.

(It should be noted that there are times when we don’t need a team. We need a leader who will stand, even if alone, and lead people to places they can’t yet see but where they need to go. I have found those times to be rare when I have a healthy team. This post addresses teams — and we need them more often.)


 Ron Edmondson blogs at RonEdmondson.com.

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