The creative team I work with isn’t
really a team at all. There is competition,
backstabbing, and a lack
of trust. How do we get to a point
where we can achieve synergy?
It’s not unusual for strained relationships to develop
among groups of people who work closely together.
As creative professionals, we have the added stress
of deadlines, client demands, and the self-imposed
need to produce brilliant work … making it even
more likely for strife to appear.
The first step in solving the problem is for
group members to individually reflect on what they
believe is the root cause: What is the origin of the
friction? The goal in pinpointing the issues affecting
the team is not to place blame; rather it is to achieve
consensus on what needs adjusting. By reviewing
the situation privately—perhaps with the aid of a
questionnaire or survey—the potential for a gripe
session is removed, and team members are better able
to come to the table in a spirit of open-mindedness
and cooperation. Of course one person’s perceptions
of what a team’s shortcomings are may not match
another’s, but, if conducted properly, the mere exercise
of sharing insights will be an important step in
resolving many of the problems.
Remembering that a group can be (and usually
is) plagued by more than one issue, let’s look at five
reasons for discord among creative colleagues:
1. Team members have dramatically different
Whether it’s the Early Bird vs. the Night
Owl, or the Free Spirit vs. the Corporate Thinker,
there are as many ways of working as there are sans
serif fonts. In a dysfunctional team environment,
differences become rifts and points for polarization.
A “we/they” mentality develops as cliques vie for
position or favoritism. In healthy teams, differences
are valued and seen as a way for the group to achieve
depth and balance.
2. There is no shared vision or common goal.
When teams lack accord on where they are going,
the result is a sort of pandemonium and directionless
feeling. When teams agree on certain values, there is
less need for elaborate procedures, documentation,
and formality. If everyone knows—and agrees on—a
destination, the group automatically rows in the
same direction. Conversely, if the group, company,
or department is without a mission, it will get somewhere,
but how will it know when it has arrived?
3. Stress and pressure are taking a toll.
Perhaps the single most beneficial condition for fostering
creative work is a supportive and nurturing
environment. Stress, pressure, and anxiety are antithetical
to a productive creative environment. When
a team does not honor individual contribution, celebrate
group performance, or simply allow for down
time, it runs the risk of burnout, stagnation, and, of
course, excessive group conflict.
4. Team members have differing expectations.
Whether you call it work ethic, work/life balance, or
simply passion, people have different levels of dedication
to their careers at different points in their lives.
Newlyweds or new parents, for example, may invest
fewer hours at the office than new hires trying to
establish themselves. When one faction feels it is giving
more—or entitled to give less—team conflict is
sure to present itself.
5. Good leadership is lacking.
People tend to perform at peak capacity when they have leaders they
look up to and trust. Just as a sports team wants to
“win one for the coach,” creative teams are empowered
by leadership that effectively balances encouragement
with constructive criticism, discipline with
freedom to explore, teaching with learning. When a
group leader has a hidden agenda, is insecure, or is
not forthcoming, optimal group function is unlikely.
Once each team member has had a chance to
think about the sources of conflict, it is time for the
group to come together to share their assessments out
loud … and reach a consensus about how to remedy
the situation. Most often this will mean a facilitated
session (sometimes more than one), with an agenda
dedicated to the topic at hand. How this session is
positioned and conducted will influence its outcome;
carefully plan it out well in advance.
Part 2: In the next installment, I’ll explore how to
conduct the assessment session, correct the team’s
trajectory without bruising egos, and get buy-in for
the long term.
The ABC's of Building a Business Team That
Wins, by Blair Singer,
$16.95, Warner Books,
Everyone a Leader: A
Grassroots Model for
the New Workplace,
by Horst Bergmann
et al, $24.95, Wiley.
for Teams, by
Daniel Levi, $58.95,
The Team Handbook,
by Peter R. Scholtes
et al, $39, Joiner/Oriel
The Wisdom of Teams,
by Jon R. Katzenbach
and Douglas K. Smith,
$17.95, Harper Collins