No Such Thing as ‘Bad’ Teams?

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“Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader.”

This quote comes from a book I read a couple of years ago, by former US Navy Seal, Jocko Willink, called Extreme Ownership. In a nutshell, the theme of the book is that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

From my own experience as both a leader and a direct report, I tend to agree with Willink.

Often, I saw a manager complaining that they had a bad, or ‘toxic’ team, only to see the team come alive and perform when a different person took the same team over. I’ve taken over teams myself that came with a bad reputation, and got them performing. It’s all about taking a group of individuals and turning them into a team, with clear expectations.

Usually on a dysfunctional team, there are one or two ‘bad apples’ poisoning the barrel, but the manager is in a position of authority to get ahead of them, and nullify their effect.

Get close to the ‘bad apples’ – why are they intent on causing trouble? Why are they unhappy? What needs of theirs are not being met? See if there is a way to get them onside. After all, if they are so influential on the rest of the team, you may be able to turn them into your champion!

If not, then the manager can aim to find a way to quickly move them out of the team, or, if necessary the company.

Getting the rest of the team bought into your leadership can isolate any trouble-causers anyway, and this should be the number one aim of any manager, with any team, at any time. Spending time listening, supporting, coaching the people. Be true to your word, be honest.

Even if this is a team that you’ve managed for a while, it’s never too late to turn things around. If you’ve made mistakes that have turned the team against you, hold your hand up. Vulnerability is not the same as weakness. There is a lot more respect to be gained from saying ‘I got it wrong’ than from making the same mistakes, being stubborn and pointing fingers.

Of course, there may be a skill set shortage on the team, but managers should first make sure that the ‘will’ of each team member is at 100% before looking at the skill. Once they are sure of the will, then it’s a question of performance management and enablement, the bread-and-butter of management.

Managers with ‘bad’ teams need to be encouraged to look at themselves first, often with the help of a coach, trainer, mentor to identify their strengths – especially those who are quick to point the figure at their teams, as this is potentially a sign of poor self-awareness.

In a previous post, I wrote about there being room for leaders with different skill sets. Managers shouldn’t try to be something they are not, but work to their own strengths, and use the strengths of their team to bolster their weaknesses by delegating tasks that they may not be as strong at. Always remember, as the leader, you are still a very important part of the team.

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