Recognizing Early Warning Signs
Can Lead You to a Stronger Team
You can take action as soon as you sense a problem and turn communication or actions that are destructive onto a constructive path. Warning signs that relationships may be taking a destructive turn in your team aren't necessarily bad news. Not recognizing the signs or waiting for things to get better "on their own" is only the beginning of the bad news you'll experience.
Okay, you know you shouldn't avoid dealing with team problems. What do you look for? Every team is different. Every workplace has a different culture. You know what is healthy dissension and what is potentially destructive to everything you and others are working toward. Consider these signs. Weigh their significance in your team. Don't delay in tending to them if you sense a problem that is likely to escalate and do real damage.
Early Warning Signs
- Gossip or petty talking about others seems to be gaining as a team activity replacing time spent in actual problem solving. Conflict is inevitable. When it turns from being focused on ideas to a focus on personalities, it is time to shift back to more constructive behaviors.
- Absences and tardiness are on the rise for no apparent reason. Planning and cooperation among other team members can keep team progress and outcomes on track in spite of absences and tardiness. However, this behavior can be a sign that team members are disengaging for a reason, and you need to find out what it is.
- Complaints are heard decisions aren't being made fairly, some team members are pulling their weight, others are taking credit for ideas that are not theirs, etc. When team members avoid handling their problems early and directly, the opportunity for constructive problem resolution is seriously delayed and the responsibility for solving problems is moved to the team leader.
- Team members are stingy with praise and compliments. When people are defensive, they find it much harder to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of others. What is causing team members to be defensive or possibly go on the offense?
- No one wants to take ownership when there is a mistake and some may even place the blame on others. Mistakes happen. When team leaders view mistakes as learning opportunities, team members are more likely to accept responsibility and actually make fewer mistakes in the future because they learned from the earlier mishaps.
- Any change that concerns you just a little — trust your instincts. If something seems awry, it probably is.
What should you do if you see a warning sign?
Reassess your priorities. Juggle the items on your "To Do" list. Start a dialogue with team members individually or as a group. Listen objectively and show you value each member's contributions. Don't proceed as if only you can solve the problem. Let others resolve their own problems whenever possible. Listen to and act on suggestions for your role in getting the team back on track when those suggestions are on target. The moments you spend on this now will keep you from being that clueless team leader who says, "I didn't see THAT coming!"