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Section 5  Resistance to Team Building

            Some individuals take forever to move beyond resistance in team building. They will do what ever it takes to ward off changes when the only reality is change. Not only do they practice the art of self-sabotage bit they assist in the sabotage of others on their team. Fear and denial feed their resistance to team building.

            Collaboration also does not come easily to the spirit of most team members. There may be a lack of conviction that teams work better. Resistance to teams may be viewed as too time consuming, requiring many meetings and generate many complaints.

Teams may even threaten the personal style of many long term professionals who value individual responsibility. They may fear submitting their fate or exposing their flaws to team performance or scrutiny.

            A concern for internal politics or external public relations can discourage the conditions in which teams can achieve and flourish. An environment that undermines mutual staff member/employer trust and openness upon which the teams depend and thrive will reduce the team building concept to little more than management rhetoric.

            Organizations buy all the latest equipment and technology for bringing change to their environments. This change process is the very tool that will enable them to be competitive in today and tomorrow’s markets. Consultants and trainers are brought in to execute the “latest.”

Management believes it has done its part. Now it’s the staff member’s turn to implement the transition. Yes, the tools are there but it’s the staff members who are the gatekeepers. They become the gatekeepers of the change. If the staff members don’t buy in, then the “latest” is sabotaged.

The adage, “try it, you might like it,” isn’t always an instant fit. It takes time, practice and lots of training for change to take place in any work environment or clinical setting. This is rarely an overnight process.

Often, staff members in an organization feel that if they just hang on and do nothing that things will just settle down and go back to normal. This is not dealing with reality! 

Looking at Constraints 

          Constraints can be considered any barrier that impedes the progress of building a team. The first may be a perception that there are “brick walls” in the way with examples being the various health regulations, standards, state or government guidelines. What is important to staff members is to examine these closely and decide how relevant these are.

            Staff members may also be victims of self-imposed constraints based on their attitudes, perceptions and prior experiences. These may partly be based on fact but generally embellished by imagination. In this case some valid questions to ask may be; which of my assumptions are valid or how willing am I to experiment or take a risk? 

            With a move to self-managed teams, many staff members may have difficulty adjusting to the idea of working without a traditional boss or supervisor after so many years of dependence. The emphasis on team values may not only threaten their traditional views of work but also their approach to life.

            There may also be distrust among the ranks. With a history of management induced fads and poor management of relations, some organizations have no immediate credibility with first-line employees, especially unionized employees, to earn the trust needed to implement the team process.

If management sees team development as an expense rather than an investment and staff members see teams as another attempted shift to co-op staff members to the views of management, then a shirt to teams will likely fail. Its not a surprise then that many stories of successful team efforts have come from threatened organizations where staff members and management were forced to confront and discard traditional distrust in favor of teams.

For some managers, a shift to teams and to the corresponding flatter organization reduces their opportunities for advancement in the traditional organizational hierarchy. Certainly, there are economic factors, not a movement to teams, that have threatened the career prospects and aspirations of many managers. Downsizing and delayering will continue whether teams are used or not.

There may also be the constraint of lack of empathy and understanding on the part of management. The formation of self-managing teams requires the ability to listen, to change views, to empathize, and to change basic behavior patterns. Without an adequate investment in the training and the development of social skills, team development will be retarded.

 Further, managers who have been trained in a forceful or threatening way may not readily accept the conce0t of teams. The change to a team approach results in a variety of responses to the traditional, hardcharger manager.

            Another view may be the inflexible constraints often considered in any organization. These may include the policies, procedures or practices affecting everyday operations set by upper management or the organization itself. Examining these issues may require exploring to see if the various policies or procedures are still in effect or how much influence will they really have on staff members involved.  

Team Problems 

                The staff members have successfully been put into teams, so why aren’t they working? There is not usually a simple answer to this question. Teams are complex and each team is unique, so it is impossible to know what will work for all teams in all settings.

 But it is not impossible to diagnose specific problems they apply strategies to help teams overcome hurdles and successfully accomplish their goals. Before you decide what to do you must figure out what’s wrong, not what you think might be wrong, but what is actually wrong!

There are several ways to gather information about the team. The methods you choose will depend on your role (as team member, manager or consultant), time and resources available.

·        Observe
Look at the team in its natural setting to see how team members interact, how decisions are made, how problems are solved, and how the team manages stress.

·        Interview
Another way to get information is to interview team members, either individually or as a group.

·        Survey
Surveys, rating scales, and questionnaires are effective diagnostic tools because they appear to be objective and allow team members to respond candidly. There are many tools that are commercially available, or you may even want to develop your own.

There are some basic questions you should ask to discover areas of concern within your team. Open-ended questions like the following that are listed below will cover a range of topics that will help guide the diagnostic process.

·        How does the organization support team work? 

·        How does the manager’s leadership style affect the team’s work? 

·        What does the team see as stumbling blocks to getting the job done? 

·        What interpersonal problems exist on the team? 

·        How is conflict being handled? 

·        How are problems solved? 

·        Does the team have a spirit of trusting and caring? 

·        Where and to whom do team members go for help? 

·        Do they feel free to seek help within their team and from their manager or supervisor? 

After you have figured out the issues and concerns, you are in a position to address them head on. In many situations, the problems can be addressed by the team for the team.

The do-it-yourself approach is good for teams that are far enough along in their development to talk about problems openly and solve them. However, some teams may not need a more structured solution that involves team building by a manager or consultant. Following are some suggested guidelines for working through team problems.

·        Prevent problems.  
Many frustrating problems can be prevented if the group spends time developing itself into a team with a plan, leadership, and ground rules.

·        Treat problems as team problems.  
Avoid the tendency to blame individuals when things go wrong. The truth is that many problems occur because of group dynamics, which means the group many be responsible. Look at what the group is doing to encourage problem behaviors, then plan constructive strategies the group can use to solve the problem.

·        Choose the right intervention.  
Some behaviors create minor disruptions; some behaviors are chronic or very disruptive to the point of halting team progress. A good leader knows and uses a range of interventions from doing nothing to direct confrontation or expulsion from the team. The wrong intervention can create problems of its own, so whoever intervenes to solve a problem must be sure to choose the right degree and kind of intervention for the problem at hand.

A first and important step in helping teams is to accurately diagnose team problems through observation, interviews, and surveys. Once you know what is plaguing the team process, you can provide the appropriate help or resources.

               All teams can have problems at one time or another. These problems can range in scope and significance. Philip Lancaster has identified potential team problems listed below:  

·        Floundering 

·        Dominating Team Members 

·        Reluctant Team Members 

·        Digression 

·        Feuds 

·        Insufficient support from corporate management

·        Setbacks resulting from frequent personnel changes (downsizing, mergers, layoffs) 

         When problems are identified as a result of the symptoms being present, a self- evaluation is indicated. Is the manager playing a role in the conflict or is there a system to reward undesirable behavior? Possibly, there might be certain behaviors or personalities that can lead to conflict. In order for many conflicts to be resolved, some common causes and cures could be explored.


Floundering refers to long delays, lack of progress, or failure to finish a particular project.

 Team members often have trouble starting and finishing a project and may get stuck at different phases of a project. Consider some of the following common causes  of team floundering: 

·        Goals and assignments are not clear.

·        The team is overwhelmed by the scope of the project.

·        Processes for planning, making decisions, or solving problems have not been firmly established.

·        Leadership is too weak or controlling.

·        The group does not know what to do next.

·        Some group members want to maintain status quo.

·        The team is reluctant to show its results, fearing rejection.

·        The team is reluctant to disband at the end of a project.

            Some of the strategies listed can be utilized as cures to get a floundering team moving again.

·        Review the project goals.

·        Review the project plan to figure out what to do next.

·        Figure out what’s needed for the next steps (e.g., data, support, approval or resources).

·        Take a critical look at how the project is being run.

·        Identify unfinished business that needs to be finished.

·        Develop a procedure plan for the next steps.

·        Clarify and confirm team member assignments. 

Dominating Team Members 

            Dominating team members are those who consume a disproportionate amount of time. They talk a lot, and their constant talking inhibits others. Dominators are a problem because they pollute the communication process and impede progress. When dominators rule, some team members get discouraged, and others may get very angry.

            Some possible causes  of dominant team members may include the following: 

·        The dominators may need attention and recognition.

·        The dominator may be vying for the leadership role.

·        Discussions of issues may not be structured enough for the dominator.

·        The leader has not set limits.

Some of the following strategies  may be effect in having the person involved play a less dominant role: 

·        Structure discussions and encourage equal participation.

·        Get the team to establish discussion guidelines.

·        Praise the dominant person when appropriate.

·        Jump in and direct the discussion, an example may be “Now let’s here from…..” 

Reluctant Team Members 

            Reluctant team members are the opposite of dominant team members, they rarely speak. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the ability to speak often and with a great deal of freedom, the reluctant team member is at, and risk of fading into the background.

            Problems can develop if the reluctant team member is never encouraged to participate. As a result, the team fails to benefit from this member’s input. 

            Some possible causes  for a reluctant team member could include: 

·        Some reluctant participants are naturally shy and may need time and encouragement to participate in-group settings.

·        The reluctant members may feel he performs best when he/she listens.

·        Reluctant team members may not know the goal or the task at hand.

·        Reluctant team members may not know or understand of know their roles.

Some strategies  or cures for the reluctant team member may include the following ideas: 

·        Structure discussions and encourage equal participation.

·        Make sure the reluctant team member knows his or her assignment.

·        Assign individual reports.

·        Ask the reluctant team member to give an opinion. You may even want to use this example, “Ed, what do you think?” 


            Digressions can be the tangents and off-topic paths that the team can travel. Some digression starts as an innocent side comment or anecdote that leads to other comments, and before you know it, the team has spent time talking about something totally unrelated to the task at hand. Some digressions are intentional manipulation of a discussion by team members who are trying to avoid a subject.

            Some possible causes  for digression could include: 

·        Team members may be bored.

·        Team members are floundering.

·        The team is spending too much time relaxing and having fun and not dealing with the problems or issues at hand.

·        There is no agenda.

·        Discussion rules have not been established or are not enforced.

·        A member is trying to avoid a sensitive topic.

If digression is a problem with your team or team members, the following strategies may help: 

·        Structured discussions with a written agenda.

·        Be sure sensitive or difficult topics are put on the agenda.

·        Direct the discussion back on track by saying, “We’ve strayed from our topic or we were talking about…….” 

·        Establish and follow discussion guidelines.

Feuding Team Members 

Some teams are burdened by conflict among its members. Feuding should not be confused with productive disagreement over team issues. Feuding is a personal battle between team members. The danger of feuds is that they can create factions when other team members are dragged into the fight. At the very least, feuds decrease morale, and drain team time and energy.

Possible causes  for feuding could include: 

·        The feud may predate the team (grinding the old axe).

·        The feud may be based on a power struggle.

·        The individuals that are involved with the feud may truly dislike each other.

Cures and strategies  for some of the feuding individuals may include the following: 

·        Prevent the problem by selecting team members carefully.

·        Establish and enforce ground rules for managing differences.

·        Confront the individuals involved in the feud and encourage them to discuss the issue outside the team.

·        Make sure that the individuals involved in the feud get help (if needed) to neutralize their conflict. 

Insufficient Support from Corporate Management  

            Many organizations underestimate the amount of ongoing training and support needed by teams and their members. These organizations establish teams without committing the necessary personnel, time, and resources to help teams succeed. The same organization may take team success for granted and fail to give them adequate recognition and rewards for their accomplishments. As a result, teams often flounder and get discouraged or fail. 

            Some possible causes  of insufficient support may be: 

·        The organization was not well prepared to use teams.

·        The organization suffers from communication breakdowns.

·        Management pays lip service to teamwork and continues to manage the old way. They do not “walk their talk.” 

·        Management is not committed to the ongoing team development.

·        The organization has not allocated funds for ongoing training and support.

·        The organization has unrealistic expectations for the teams.

Some strategies  for team members to deal with insufficient support may include: 

·        Confront senior management about system problems that are undermining team success.

·        Appoint a team representative to represent to make specific presentations and requests to management (including senior management) about unmet needs. It is important that this individual be polite, organized and specific about the issues.

·        Give feedback to team members. Let management know what it is doing that hinders and helps team progress.

·        Let management know when and why the team is stuck, especially if it can help get the team unstuck.

·        Explain how broken promises impede the work of the team and its progress. Be very specific. 

·        Keep management informed about the teams progress. Demonstrate how the team is helping the organization accomplish its goals.  

·        Invite management to visit with the team and open the lines of communication. 

Setbacks Resulting from Frequent Personnel Changes (downsizing, mergers and layoffs)

            During periods of downsizing, mergers, and layoffs, teams are likely to lose some team members or get a few new ones. During the stages of team development, it is reasonable to assume that any changes in team composition will affect how the team operates. This effect may be short lived and inconsequential, or it may be dramatic and long lasting. Some well established teams have procedures for handling membership change, but even with procedures in place, there is no guarantee that the new members will fit quickly and smoothly.

            Some possible causes  for frequent changes in an organization could be: 

·        Layoffs 

·        Mergers 

·        Downsizing 

·        Change in top leadership 

·        Reorganization 

·        Redesign of organizational structure 

      Possible cures  for chaos created by changes:  

·        Prepare the team and give them as much information as possible to assist them in facing the organizational changes head on.

·        Give teams time to adjust to new membership, realizing that teams may revert to early stages for a while.

·        Assign a mentor or preceptor to help new team members.

·        Establish procedures for introducing new team members.

·        Identify other departments, units or organizations that have had success with the change process so team members can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel! 

·        Establish procedures for reassigning tasks to fill gaps when members are removed from teams.

·        Get help for the team if it needs some specific team building intervention. As example of a resource in this area could be an educator or clinical specialist.

·        Confirm and reclarify team goals and tasks.

·        Identify some small gains that have influenced the organization in a positive way from the change process already in place. 

 [Philip Lancaster. Creating a Climate for Teams  (Boston: Bartlett Publishers, 1992), 90].