You may be working with a great team – the project is moving along, the firm is hanging on in this economy, the staff has good rapport, stakeholder relations are positive – so what could go wrong?

Even the most positive and productive teams can run into roadblocks that can disrupt performance and attitudes.  Sometimes these negatives can actually dismantle progress and cause the entire effort or the entire group to collapse into non-productive mode.

What do teams need to stay strong and move ahead?  Here are top tips:

  1.  Team culture requires a common vocabulary.

Make sure everyone is on the same page by establishing common understandings for terminology, expectations, and the decision-making process.  If certain words are often used, if individual members rotate on and off the team over time, if particular processes or approaches are part of the team culture but not everyone knows what they are, the team cohesiveness can actually break down.

It is helpful to start selected meetings with a review of certain terms and procedures, to prepare an inhouse glossary or even conduct a periodic mini-training seminar to prevent misunderstandings and clue-in all team members with the objective to strengthen commitment to the team goals through communication.

  1. Adjust definition of team success.

Success for a team is NOT just about getting tasks accomplished.  Winning teams need three components:  tasks, process, and relationships.  The tasks are the jobs, the “what” we do.  But, there are many ways to get the job done. Winning teams see a bigger picture that includes not only tasks, but alsoprocess; process is how we do it.

The team bonds and strengthens by engaging in discussion about options and approaches to best accomplish the task.  The activity of soliciting and evaluating information and ideas can unify the group and encourage buy-in for the agreed-upon solution.

Beyond tasks and process, teams must focus on relationships.  The formal and informal connections between team members affect how willingly and earnestly each person contributes to achieving the goals of the project, firm, meeting.  If team members are uncomfortable with the group, feel “left out”, or simply show up at meetings because they are required to do so, the entire team is affected.  Focus on building quality relationships among team members so each participant is motivated to contribute to the process and follow-through on tasks.

  1. When failure arrives, get back on track.

Failure?  Don’t punish, don’t reprimand, and don’t panic.  Two tactics become important to resurrect a team that experiences failure, defeat, or insurmountable obstacles.  The first is the hope tactic.   Whether your position is team leader or member, you can take the initiative to infuse the entire team with positive attitude.  Familiar, even cliché phrases are important when delivered with energized voice and motivational spirit:  “We can do this.”  “Let’s just concentrate and work even harder.” “We are success driven – we will succeed!”  “We’ll get through this and then we’ll be in good shape.”

Is hope enough?

No!  Hope must be coupled with tactic #2:  an action plan.  Channel energy into a practical, realistic, step-by-step plan for improvement, mapping out specific tasks, focusing on cementing the team’s quality relationships,and establishing do-able timeframes.  Create short-distance milestones that focus on “graspable” achievements – keep up morale and move the team in a new, highly focused, repaired direction.

Start with these three tips to keep your team from imploding.  Prevention is worth the effort!