Some teams work together so well, and other teams seem to fall apart. They are often embracing process improvements programs such as Total Quality Management (TQM), Kaizen or Six Sigma known for delivering exceptional results. Sometimes, despite all the effort to create a sound proof process, the team struggles to perform and may break down completely. What do you think is missing?

While many of these processes refine hard skills a team member brings to the group, the soft skills are often ignored or their impact is minimized. Successful teams go beyond team structure, process, roles and responsibilities.

The individual characteristics – behaviors and filters – affect how the team operates, and impact how well structure and process is performed. If left unchecked, these attributes can get in the way of creating open discussions.

People may feel left out or become over powered by other team members, leading to a contribution shut down. The team may or may not realize they are suffering until they start to miss deadlines.

The first step is to invest in each other by learning about how one another thinks about situations. Our thinking preferences play a direct role in how we:

  • Communicate
  • Make decisions
  • Solve problems
  • Be creative
  • Innovate
  • Execute
  • Work in teams

When we learn what each team member has to offer, and more importantly, what we might be missing, the team has the knowledge to close the gap between failure and success. Stress can also play a large part in how we may be behaving differently with each other.

Sometimes, I get a call from a prospective client who wants to do a quick team building session. This client is in the “fix it” mode of problem solving. The typical situation is Jane and Jim doesn’t get along. The company thinks if we bring in an work relationship consultant to tell them what they should be doing, the problem will be solved in a couple of hours.

My two cents – save your money and time. Your problem will not be solved. It may go away for a few days if you are lucky. People generally don’t change their behavior unless the consequences of continuing to do the same thing are far worse than changing it to something else.

This organization does not have a “fix it” problem. A “fix it” problem is about changing something that is wrong. Examples are: we are behind in our budget or sales are down 30% over last year. This is a different problem.

Building personal relationships are “do it” problems – and the solution takes time. “Do it” types of problems focus on improving the future situation. They are often more challenging. It requires the engagement of others and the ability to see how the future state will benefit them individually, with the group and organization.

Finding a fresh approach to discussing the elephants or problems at work is a good strategy. There are a number of assessments which provide a neutral framework to deepen individual and team appreciation. The individuals learn about themselves, and then about how their preferences play off other team members.

The Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) is the choice of executives and teams in organizations that I personally work with because it focuses on thinking preferences. Within a day or two, we can be at the heart of important issues through more open communication and a willingness to see things from another perspective.

The next time you have a team breakdown, examine if the behavioral and communication skills are the culprit. If so, talk to the leader about taking a time out to get everyone back on track as full contributors.