Team idleness is a term I use to describe when a team is failing to move forward towards its desired goals and objectives. Team idleness does not always mean the wrong people are on the team, although it certainly could. It doesn’t always mean the team has the wrong goals and objectives or the goals and objectives are unrealistic, but of course it could.
But, the term simply means things have stalled. Team idleness means for a span of time there is no — or very little – forward progress for the team. It could be a month or several months. Things aren’t desperate; at least not yet. They’ve simply slowed.
Every team, regardless of their health, can go through times of team idleness.
I have witnessed team idleness many times in organizations with which I have been associated – in business and in the church. I can assure you most teams will deal with team idleness at various times through the life of the team.
What causes team idleness? What causes a team to stagnate?
Here are a 7 thoughts – with a few tips along the way:
No fresh ideas.
If new ideas are not coming to the table frequently the team becomes stale and progress slows.
One way teams I lead have addressed this is to periodically schedule times where the only agenda is brainstorming – dreaming – answering the question “what’s next?” Also, reading books together, attending a conference, or visiting other healthy organizations or churches can help generate new ideas.
If team members are overworked or in need of a break their energy level will slow. This is true for team members and the leader.
In my experience, avoiding burnout has to be encouraged and built into the structure. For me it’s essential I discipline myself to rest frequently. I try to personally lead by example here. Shared values and shared workload help here. There should be no Lone Rangers on a healthy team.
And, it’s not that the vision is actually lost. It’s probably posted on a wall or a website somewhere you have to overlook to not see. If a team loses sight of the big picture goals and objective, however, they can lose interest or get off course.
Vision-casting is an essential task of every leader – and it needs to be done frequently. Celebrating also keeps what’s valued ever before the team. There should be consistent opportunities to share stories of success.
Mis-placed team members.
I didn’t say wrong team members. It could be, but many times idleness is caused when a vision outgrows members of the team and other times when team members outgrow the vision. Good people can no longer be the right fit for the role they’ve been asked to play – or even for the team.
People sometimes need a reassignment of duties or a change of focus. They need new goals which further stretch them. It’s not a bad idea to occasionally shift the organizational structure and chart. And, sometimes people simply need the nudge to do something different – even outside the team.
Lack of Resources.
If there are not adequate resources to complete the task the work becomes frustrating and the team stalls. While we need to be stretched and walk by faith, it’s equally important not to push people beyond where the structure can support them long-term. Unreasonable expectations – over time – cause team members to naturally slow their individual productivity, which impacts the entire team.
Leaders must make sure the team has the resources they need to do what they’ve been asked to do.
Sometimes people are asked to perform beyond their level of understanding. No one is helping them get to the next level and so they stall waiting for further investment into them. I have found it rare for people to voluntarily ask for more.
Leaders must recognize potential in others and intentionally develop the people around them.
No accountability for progress.
Teams idle when they stay the same for too long. Frankly, sometimes things stall because no one is pushing things to continually grow or holding people to higher standards of excellence. Don’t expect to get big results with small expectations.
Growth and momentum are seldom self-produced. Change, at least good change, never comes without purposeful efforts. Leaders must become champions of new innovation and continual progress individually and for everyone on the team.
The problem with team idleness is it doesn’t stay simply at idle. You know that leaders. Idle turns to decline and often quickly. Idleness will come naturally. Our goal should be not to rest there long.