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Team idleness

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.

Lost vision.

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.

Poor training.

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.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Kmac4him says:

    Yes, I have and it was mainly because the team leader was misplaced. But now we have another leader but it has been a slow jump start because the team members are lethargic. I am thinking maybe we need to rehearse the vision again?

  • jimpemberton says:

    This is valuable insight no matter what team you have. I see this in the secular company I work with. It helps to go through changing markets and to have competition. We want to compete well, but I don't think it would serve us to have a monopoly either. Competing makes us continually evaluate costs, look for savings, develop new products, invest in new capital ventures that will help us achieve a fruitful return, change our marketing strategies, etc.

    But this is also important for a healthy church, which can be seen as a team. It's like running instead of head-to-head competition. In long-distance running especially, your greatest opponent is yourself. Whether you came in first, last, or somewhere in between isn't nearly as important as to how you ran compared to what you've done before. Likewise, a church, and each member thereof, must walk a line between being satisfied with Christ in justification and being never satisfied with one's own performance as a Christian in sanctification. There's always something we could do better as a church, whether it be caring for each other or taking the ministry of the Word out into the world, especially given that if we are taking the Word into the world, we are being changed by bringing new members in, and the world is reacting to the Gospel either positively or negatively in varying ways. The culture is changing rapidly and what once worked doesn't work the same way anymore.

    In the years my family and I have been ministering among the Venezuelans each year, we have seen changes. In some ways our ministry is the same. But we have changed leadership, locations, local churches through whom we work, ministry activities based on the gifts of those we have coming with us, ministry opportunities based on changing political climates (we don't get involved with politics, but it does affect what we do). So we must change depending on what is going on. If we don't continually evaluate and change, the ministry will fail. Likewise, some friends of ours from church who have a ministry in Uganda have been able to take their ministry into northern Uganda in the wake of the end of Koni's reign of terror and start an orphanage for the children left behind. Our teams ministering to a closed people group in Europe have been able to expand to areas as populations change. Our teams going to the Middle East have changed their focus because of the organic nature of the ministry there. Our India ministry has changed how it ministers to pastors as we learn to focus on what best helps them.

    When the finish line moves, you have to change the direction of the race. You have to keep the team focused on the goal, wherever it is: continually reevaluate, strategize, and press forward. Never pause except to catch a breath that you will use to move forward. That's the kind of thing that should keep a team out of these seven deadly "idles".

  • kmac4him

    You work really hard and God blesses you with His Favor and success and then off to the next thing. We don’t take time to celebrate together. Give honor to whom honor is due. Grateful Awe-God celebration, closes the file on the event and propels the team forward with such Joy…and anticipation of the Next God Adventure. It is a supernatural thing too…give God Praise and He gives back… we miss out on the blessings of celebration, no time to celebrate, back at it…

  • Cricket1164 says:

    If we accept that all teams start to go in this direction, but we HAVE to get the 'Whatever it takes attitudes". We're all working toward the same goal. Yes individually we'll be standing infront of our ALMIGHTY, but we're suppose to help each other, support, care, encourage, etc-so many more! But we all get 'weary'. When we see it whether in ourselves or others, isn't it out respondibility to help or brother & sisters and when someone reaches out,,help them don't just point them in someone else's direction-don't just walk past because you feel they're holding the team back! Pick them up!!Encourage each other!! It's that simple and we make it so hard. Just think of the accomplishments that would be made!! Such a wonderful, WONDERFUL post Ron. Thank you so much!

  • Alex Penduck says:

    Ron, this is a great blog post. I’m going to save this one. I total agree with all of these especially the burnout, vision and team members ones. I have been in both positions when the vision has outgrown me and I have outgrown the vision. Never heard anyone say it though. Refreshing stuff!

    Alex Penduck’s last blog post..Parniod Leaders

  • Bro….This is my heartbeat. Thanks for all your wisdom and insight in this. Your thoughts on the wrong team members is the #1 issue I see all of the time. And some leaders are not bold enough to make changes in their teams in order to move forward!

    Michael Robison’s last blog post..Keeping Focus