Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • November 27, 2006
  • minute read

Why Your Team Isn't Working 

When your team fails to work properly, Predictable Success® is at risk – whether in the entire organization, a division, department or a project team. Here’s why your team isn’t working, and what to do about it.

Do your managers work as a cohesive team, pushing your corporate agenda forward, or do they work more as a group of individuals, fighting for different agendas?

Do your managers communicate effectively and efficiently, maximizing daily progress and moving relentlessly toward your growth goals?

Do they minimize ‘meeting time’ and get things done without the need for ‘repair and recovery’ on your part? Is everything out in the open – discussed passionately yet fairly…or are there hidden agendas and/or silences and lack of communication?

Once a decision is made, does every member of your team unanimously accept and actively support that decision – even if they were personally against the idea?

When your managers go back to their own teams, do they adopt and actively support the management decisions that have been made, or do you fear that they sometimes undermine those decisions?

Do your managers work for each other, as a united, cross-functional team, or do they work more as individuals, pursuing their own functional interests, sometimes at a cost to the organization as a whole?

The 2 Factors That Make Predictable Success® Teams

We’ve discovered that the effectiveness of any team can be measured by the interaction of two important factors:

  • The quality of communication between the team members (formally – in meetings – and informal, day-to-day interactions); and


  • The unity of agenda between team members – how much they are all pulling for the corporate good, versus fighting solely for their own functional and personal agendas.

Depending on whether or not the quality of communication is high or low, and whether the team members are pursuing many (independent) agendas or just one (the corporate agenda), will determine where any specific team fits on on the chart to the left.


Where Does Your Team Fit?

Where would you place your team on the chart to the left?

Here are a couple of guiding principles to help you figure it out:

  • Most teams move from the bottom left quadrant, through the top left quadrant, to the top right, before ‘declining’ into the bottom right;
  • Those movements from quadrant to quadrant usually (though not always) map to the ‘Fun’, ‘Whitewater’, Predictable Success® and ‘Treadmill’ stages of the organization’s development;


  • Signs that your team is in Quadrant 1(bottom left) include: a lack of (productive) team meetings, little open or honest discussion, backbiting, undermining, lack of cooperation, a high level of ‘back-channeling’, infrequent but intense ‘blow-ups’, and a frequent need for the team leader (CEO, manager, project leader) to ‘wet nurse’ the team members;


  • Signs that your team is in Quadrant 2 (top left) include: too many meetings where little gets decided, confusion between team members as to what exactly wasdecided, ambiguity in decisions, lack of consistent implementation, lack of focus on clear objectives, and the team leader frequently resorting to making the final decisions themselves;


  • Signs that your team is in Quadrant 3(top right) – the Predictable Success® stage for the team – include: Meetings that are focused and (relatively) short, clear, unambiguous decisions that are supported by everyone, a minimum amount of ‘back-channeling’, high level of successful implementation, high degree of self-accountability and creativity within the team, the team leader acts more like a facilitator than a dictator;


  • Signs that your team is in Quadrant 4 (bottom right) – the ‘decline’ stage for the team – include: team meetings that are endlessly long and uninteresting, an over-dependence on PowerPoint slides in place of honest discussion and debate, a ‘bring me no bad news’ mindset, a focus on form rather than function (‘did we do the thing right?’, rather than ‘did we do the right thing?’), metrics are more important than real progress, the team leader has ceased being a facilitator and acts more as a final arbiter.

How To Get Your Team To Predictable Success®

The graph on the right shows the quality of team outputs (essentially, effectiveness produced efficiently) as the team progresses through the four quadrants above.

There are two routes to taking a team to peak performance (the Predictable Success® stage), depending on your team’s starting point:

  1. Forward from the ‘Whitewater’ stage (equates to moving ‘forward’ from Quadrant 2 – top left, in Figure 1 above, into Quadrant 3 – top right), or
  • Back, from the ‘decline’ or ‘Treadmill’ stage (equates to moving from Quadrant 4 – bottom right, ‘back’ into Quadrant 3 – top right).

    These two routes are very different, and require entirely different tools and skills. In later articles, we’ll look in detail at how to make each ‘move’, but for now, note these points:

    • Moving ‘forward’ from Whitewater:

      Getting a team through Whitewater to work cohesively in Predictable Success® almost always requires an external intervention, and often, the loss of some team members.

      The reason for this is that in order to move into Predictable Success®, there is a need for a fundamental change in attitude, approach and belief system, from the (necessary and needed) “leader as hard-driving, ‘big-dog’, maverick” mentality that brings early success, to the more cross-functional, collegiate, ‘one-for-all, and all-for-one’ approach that’s required for Predictable Success®.

      Many teams never make this transition – they never ‘jump the gap’ in Figure 2. If they do, it’s usually after much pain.


    • Moving ‘back’ from Treadmill:

      Conversely, moving back from Treadmill to Predictable Success® usually involves internal transformation, often (though not always) accompanied by a change in the team leadership (as opposed to a change in the team members).

      Can you work out why this might be so? The next article in this series explores why.


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