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3 Ways Teams Undermine Themselves

Make your teams more effective by avoiding these three common pitfalls.
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Choosing the right team members for key projects is essential for your company's success. However, once they're formed, many teams undermine themselves in very fundamental ways. That's where Peter Jerkewitz comes in. The founder of Seattle-based NovusWorks, a business operations consulting firm, is an ace at trouble-shooting the challenges teams often face. In his book, Choose Not to Fail (PonderWhy, 2012), he has outlined a series of nine analogies that illustrate common team pitfalls.

Here are three he routinely sees in his consulting work.

1. Focusing on the wrong problem.
When teams don't have clear direction and leadership, they can often waste a great deal of time and effort on the wrong tasks. They may do a great job, but if their efforts are not in alignment with the overall goals of the company, even the most perfect effort is in vain.

"I call that 'digging the perfect hole in the wrong place.' Even if the hole is exactly as wide and deep as it needs to be, it has to be re-done if it's not in the right place, creating more than double the work for the team because you have to fill in the first hole," Jerkewitz explains.

2. Delivering too much or too little.
When teams under-deliver, failing to meet their deadlines or fulfill the tasks assigned, that's clearly a problem. But over-delivering can also be an issue. For example, if a creative team is assigned to design a new product or campaign, the goal isn't to come back with as many designs as possible, Jerkewitz explains. The goal is to come back with a smaller number of the best designs.

When a team isn't sufficiently directed or isn't using an analytical approach to delivering its assignment, members may be tempted to continue churning out work in the hope that something will "stick."

Related: 3 Ingredients for Building Effective Teams

Good direction and leadership can ensure that the team has the information and resources it needs to deliver instead of just cramming too much or too little into the parameters.

3. Dismissing the personal.
Teams are made of people -- and their personalities. Plenty of times, those personalities clash. Managers and team leaders need to ensure that they don't underestimate how much of a productivity drain hurt feelings and closed minds can be.

"When you have people who hold on to their own belief systems and don't consider the feelings of others, you can end up with staff problems that can put your entire team effort in jeopardy," Jerkewitz says.

Before any issues arise, address common problems and how they will be handled, he says. That way the team can defuse problems before they start. He recommends discussing potential solutions to problems before they actually occur -- and when relationships are still intact -- to ensure the most effective method of keeping teams productive.

Related: Lessons From a Diplomat on How to Build Business Relationships