I recently ran into an example of a terrible use of teams. The company is of good size, $11 billion a year of revenue, and they have five product divisions. The CEO asked the CFO to launch an effort to cut $200 million of administrative costs, but the CEO made what appeared to be only a modest effort to back this project. Each division VP was asked by the CFO to nominate two people from within his/her division; one financial person (whose career was controlled by the CFO) and one person from some other area of that division. Naturally each divisional VP had no real interest in this project, and instructed his or her representatives to minimize any cuts their division would have to promise.
The leader of the team reported to the CFO and had never worked in one of the product divisions. The only influence this individual had over the team members was the financial people from the divisions who looked to the staff Finance organization headed by the CFO for career management.
What resulted was four months of bickering and stonewalling by the divisional people, with the finance folks from the divisions being pulled in two directions (toward the CFO for career reasons and toward the division VP who could impact their short term performance appraisal).
The team was eventually scrapped when the divisional VP’s went to the CEO and complained that the CFO was wasting their time, and that if the CEO wanted saving, he should deal with them individually.
Stepping back, let’s face it, in many instances, teams are formed inappropriately. The following is a summary of what I believe are five problems often associated with teams:
1.) Teams Assigned to Inappropriate Tasks – It is a big mistake to form a team as a knee-jerk reaction to a problem which should be assigned to a specific person (in the case above, each of the divisional VP’s).
2.) Inadequate Commitment to the Team’s Objective – An obvious determinant to team performance is when members are neither committed nor individually accountable for its achievement. In the above example, each team member had different objectives.
3.) Unqualified or Weak Team Members – It is highly unproductive when people are appointed to teams but are simply not qualified to participate. In our example, the divisional VP’s did not want to waste the time of their strong players, so they volunteered whoever was available.
4.) Unrealistic Management Expectations – Often the management has totally unrealistic expectations since they know very little of the dynamics operating within the various parts of the organizations they are trying to impact.
5.) Indecisiveness – Teams are rarely as decisive as the individuals who make up the team. How can they be when they are struggling to gain consensus and members often have their own agendas?
Strong leaders know you should be very reluctant to reach for the use of a team.