There’s teamwork, and then there’s teamwork. The latter is full of stalled projects, fruitless conversations, and ever-changing directions. Before you stepped into your leadership role, you probably didn’t anticipate challenges like this. But you’re responsible for what your team accomplishes, and lately, it may seem the group can’t gain any traction.
Instead, they’re stuck spinning their wheels in the mud, hoping to get out of their rut. It’s a familiar yet nerve-wracking scenario for too many leaders. Misaligned communication, understandings, and priorities are usually to blame, as is a lack of proper tools. Below we’ll look at ways to help your team get unstuck and start moving forward again.
1. Match Project Goals With Strategy
Imagine you’re in a meeting to discuss your company’s brand credibility. Your boss thinks the logo needs a facelift because they’ve heard people don’t know how to pronounce the brand’s name. The suggestion is to use an illustration to show how to break down the word’s pronunciation. Your job is to tell your design team to switch gears by focusing on making an uncommon name obvious.
The problem here is you don’t know where your boss is getting their information. Is it based on new market research from an outside agency? Or is it anecdotal hearsay from a few sales reps in the field? You’ve got a faint idea of what dilemma the redesign is attempting to solve, but you’re not sure it’s valid. There doesn’t seem to be a strategy here, making it difficult to explain the project to your team.
Employees will become annoyed and confused without strategic alignment between the company’s overall plan and their group’s objectives. Your direct reports won’t buy what your boss wants you to sell. And if the project is a misguided tactic thrown at a poorly defined problem, whatever the group does won’t stick. Instead of wasting their time, it’s best to uncover the request’s root cause and align it with business objectives.
2. Create Clear Workflows
By design, groups share responsibility for the work they produce. However, this setup can backfire when it’s unclear who does what. Some team members jump on tasks without letting anyone know what they’re doing. Others hang back, waiting for direction. Employees with similar roles and skills might duplicate each other’s efforts, wasting precious resources.
When leadership doesn’t clearly define a group’s responsibilities and workflows, effective collaboration can’t happen. Ineffective communication like this can cost a company sales and clients. Also, a lack of direction can demotivate employees, block innovation, and slow the team down.
When creating well-defined workflows, you outline which steps each person is responsible for. The group won’t question what they should do and how they should hand off assignments. If each employee has a distinct set of tasks, they can keep them moving through the pipeline. Group members will feel more secure in their accomplishments and how they fit into the team. Animosity and in-fighting will also be less likely to develop.
3. Use the Right Tools
Teams can get stuck because their tools aren’t up for the job. They’re using a spreadsheet to track all the group’s projects. Or you’ve got half the team sending emails, while the other half is collaborating through shared documents.
These scenarios can cause irritation and disorganized communication. Don’t be surprised if the group gives up on using the spreadsheet. You’ll probably have some employees refuse to adopt it at all. They recognize it’s cumbersome and ineffective. Likewise, the team members relying on separate communication tools will just alienate each other.
To get everyone on the same page, you must agree on tools that streamline collaboration. You want effective solutions but also applications everyone can understand. It doesn’t help to invest in software no one feels comfortable using. Project management software and collaboration platforms are good at centralizing information. Implementing these tools can help your team stay on track, but matching capabilities with needs is key.
Say your group works a hybrid schedule and juggles multiple complex projects. In this case, a tool with videoconferencing, instant messaging, project roadmaps, and document sharing is appropriate. But a simple task management solution may be more appropriate if your team works in the office and collaborates sporadically.
4. Set Priorities
Your direct reports can find themselves in a rut because of burnout. An excessive workload is a leading cause of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Too many competing priorities, last-minute “emergency requests,” and an always-on culture are typical factors behind employee burnout.
Leaders who don’t establish priorities can create environments where burnout is more likely to happen. The same goes for managers who constantly contact employees after hours and when they’re out of the office. Even sending early morning and late-night emails can send the wrong message. It says the boss is always working, and they expect their direct reports to do the same.
Yet feeling this type of stress doesn’t make employees work harder. Instead it reduces their productivity, sometimes to zero. When leaders establish priorities and model healthier workplace behaviors, their teams can tackle tasks productively. They won’t get the impression they have to accomplish everything at once. If you set urgency levels, employees will know how to manage both the group’s highest priorities and its backflow.
Your team might look busy, but it doesn’t mean they’re working toward fruitful outcomes. Sometimes those tasks waste the group’s time and talent, causing them to get stuck on a road to nowhere. Other times, there’s no way for employees to make sense of what’s going on, so they stop doing anything. They don’t see the point of spinning their wheels in frustration.
Obstacles may be inevitable, but leaders are there to give their teams the direction they need to get around them. Wheel spinning stops when you communicate how company strategy aligns with projects, establish workflows, provide the right tools, and set priorities. Taking these steps will enable team members to navigate easily around each potential roadblock.