“From the Front Management™” Series Article I – Why Teams Fracture
Any time a team fractures, there is a price. It is a dear price, because not only does the team, the operation, the morale, the productivity, and the efficiency degrade, but service to the customer will plummet. One of the biggest challenges is recognizing the warning signs of impending fracture and taking the necessary steps to avoid or at least minimize the trend.
There are clear symptoms that a team is beginning to slip, even it has functioned well in the past. These manifest in different ways. The most obvious are increased absenteeism and lateness. But there are more subtle changes that also are clear indicators that the team is at risk. One of these is attitude. Employees will seem to lose energy. Everything will take longer. The will be a pervasive feeling that the employees don’t care as much. Personally, I don’t think that employees don’t care, but rather are upset with something that has changed around them. Because a team usually weakens gradually, there may not be an awareness of what factors are negatively impacting the team. Even the employees themselves may not know, or be able to articulate the issues. Then again, they may know exactly what the issues are, and the process of beginning to alleviate the stresses that are at the root of the problem may be as simple as asking them
There can be many different reasons why a team begins to fracture, but some are more common than others. For example, there may be changes in the company that have not been communicated well and that create anxiety in the employees, like cut backs, significant changes in upper management, or rumors about lay-offs.
What about the goals of the team and company? Do the employees know what these are? What are the goals the team is working towards? Just like any human being, if people are doing the same things over and over without being challenged boredom has a way of creeping in. This can also cause a sluggish attitude or a feeling that nothing ever changes.
Again, however, the root cause may be less obvious. Maybe no one listens to the employees; maybe their ideas are given no credence and are never implemented. Perhaps the employees feel that management is too removed from the daily operation. If employees usually hear from management only when something goes wrong it will not take long for the morale to go down.
Teams can fracture quickly if they do not have respect for each other and for the team as a whole. This attitude of respect is directly impacted by the team’s manager. The team will mirror the manager. This is so critically important, that a company must be willing to take a hard look at management attitudes in order to understand team attitude. When the manager’s attitude is one of respect, when the manager is the team’s cheering section, when the manager believes in the team, supports the team, and looks to the team for input in solving problems, the result will be a strong, up-beat, productive team .
When a team begins to decline the customer is the one that pays. Attitudes affect the way that employees deal with customers. The team takes care of the customers and needs to be sharp and engaged because the customer is the only reason anyone in the company comes to work each day. A team will begin to fracture as soon as the people on it think they are not being considered or cared about. When morale goes down, whatever the reason, the team is at risk. When the team is at risk, customer service is at risk. It is just that simple.