10 more ways to kill a team

Sébastien Dubois / August 20, 2020

8 min read

Forming a team is no easy task; you have to find the right profiles at the right time, with the right set of skills, with a ton of motivation and a little bit of alchemy. Making one great is even harder. Great teams form and stay strong thanks to a number of factors. Small changes can have devastating effects.

Broken. Picture courtesy of https://unsplash.com/@tompumford

In my previous post, I’ve explored some of the things that can quickly destroy a team. In this follow-up post, I’ll explore more anti-patterns.

Don’t take breaks

It’s easy to burn a team out. If you ask everyone to give 120% all the time, it cannot last for long.

It may help when closing in on an important milestone, but you always have to pay it back at some point. Asking too much for too long is a productivity killer. The turnover rate will increase quicker than you imagine.

Team members need to take regular breaks during the day, to breathe, walk, change their minds. If you don’t let team members breathe, then you’re creating a toxic and unhealthy environment.

In any case, whatever your colleagues/boss says, do pay attention to your health. Also, don’t burn yourself out because everyone else does it. If someone criticizes you for taking small breaks during the day, then maybe you should think about finding greener pastures.

Always talk about work

As I’ve said in my previous article, we are social animals. People that are in love with their work and/or that follow their passion or only care about their own goals can be overwhelming and, sometimes, even insensitive. They tend to focus on work all of the time and even forget that life is much more than that.

If your team and one-on-one meetings/discussions focus on work all of the time, then you’re working in an environment that is dangerous for your health.

Work is, of course, important and we should remain on top of what needs to be done, but for a real team to exist, people must also discuss other subjects from time to time. Indeed, you don’t want to become close friends with everyone, but if you only focus on work, then you’re missing the social and human aspects of teamwork.

Whether the situation is caused by a toxic manager or by your colleagues doesn’t really matter. But you can always try and initiate other subjects.

To me, focusing on work all of the time creates a weird atmosphere in a team. If I’m going to spend so much of my precious time with other people, it might as well feel good; which brings me to my next point.

Don’t care for colleagues

If you never take time to discuss other things than work with your colleagues, then it means that you don’t get to know them all that well.

You know about their skills, their work ethics, etc, but you don’t know them. And if you don’t know your colleagues well enough, then you can’t ever become a strong and tight-knit group.

In a team, there should be a morning coffee break (with or without caffeine, doesn’t matter), where everyone can chit-chat, and not necessarily about work. The team can still have a quick stand-up meeting right after to discuss what’s planned for the day, but the coffee break should be about people, not necessarily work.

By getting to know your colleagues better, you’ll discover different facets of their personality, that might help you better collaborate later on, or understand when/why they’re underperforming. They might be building a house, working hard on a side project, be sick, etc. If you don’t discuss anything other than work, then you won’t know. If you don’t know, then you may make judgments based on false beliefs.

A team is made of humans, not numbers. If your team only cares about what it needs to deliver all of the time and never about the individuals and their well-being, then there’s no team; there’s just a bunch of busy bees.

Real strong teams are made of people who get to know each other and truly care about each other.

Don’t be available

As a manager/team leader, you must make yourself available for your team. Otherwise, you’re not there and you’re not playing your role. Your role as a leader is to be present and make everything in your power to let others do their best. If you don’t do that, then you’re not serving any useful purpose.

But this is not only a leadership/management issue. All team members need to try and make themselves available for others; especially more senior members.

Don’t propose/ask for help

Team members must care for each other. If you see that someone is struggling, then do whatever you can to help, even if it means putting some work aside. It’s the team leader’s role to arrange that the most important/urgent things get taken care of. If there’s not enough buffer, then it’s a management failure.

In any case, team members should be able to count upon each other. If you notice that team members rarely help each other, then it may be a sign that there’s something wrong with the group.

Also, team members should never be afraid to ask for help. A good team is honest at all times. If someone’s stuck, then he/she should be able to shout out for help and get it.

If you need to go to your manager to get a green light for help, then that’s also a red flag. Managers should never do micro-management. The team should self-organize.

Criticize each other

Criticism is necessary for improvement, but only if provided in a safe environment, with a motivation to improve.

Gossips and behind-the-back criticism is deadly for teams. If you talk behind the back of your teammates, then you’re destroying the team by breaking trust relationships that are so crucial to a team’s health.

If a colleague criticizes another in front of you, then what might they say about you when you’re not around? Don’t be that person.

Ignore bad behaviors

We’ve all witnessed bad behavior on occasion. Sometimes, we simply don’t realize the damage that can be done with simple remarks.

Whenever you hear a sexist/racist/aggressive remark/gesture, it should raise a huge red flag in your head. It might sound like a joke, but it never is. You never know how things can evolve, how hurtful it can be, even if it looks “innocent” and even if everyone seems to be laughing about it. Do react; passivity means acknowledgment.

Again, this concerns everyone, not only managers/leaders. As a team lead, I’ve failed to react appropriately a few times, and I’ve always regretted it. Don’t do the same mistake.

Don’t defend your colleagues

Whether you’re in charge or not, you should always be there for your teammates.

If they’re in trouble and you’re not there to support them, then there’s no team. Of course, it all depends on the specific situation, but generally speaking, you should have their back.

And again, this is true whether you’re in charge or not. If you can’t count on your team leader to be there for you, then you certainly won’t be there in return.

Don’t care for diversity

Monoculture is a real issue. We tend to hire people that are like us; it feels easy, more natural, and even obvious. But in reality, we’re not giving everyone an equal chance and we’re diminishing the creativity of the group.

Every leader/manager needs to care and pay attention to diversity and avoid monoculture.

Don’t celebrate your wins

If successes are considered “normal” and never celebrated, then it’s really bad for team morale. Showing gratitude and celebrating what the team achieves is the least we can do to create a positive and cheerful atmosphere in the group.

How happy can you feel about your achievements if all you hear is “Ok, now we need to…”.

Take time to celebrate all of your wins. You deserve it and your colleagues do too. Whether it’s a gigantic software release or a tiny improvement, it’s progress. And progress deserves celebration. Of course, don’t go overboard ;-)

Conclusion

In the previous article, I’ve listed issues that can be deadly for teams. In this article, I’ve covered a few more issues that can be at least as damaging.

There are so many things that we do or fail to do, that hurt the work environment we spend so much time in. Everyone on the team needs to do his/her part to create an awesome and enjoyable work environment.

That’s it for today!

PS: check out my Dev Concepts books, join the Software Crafters community, the Personal Knowledge Management community, and come say hi on Twitter!
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