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TEAMS Are What TEAMS Do – When Team Building Goes Awry

Despite our best efforts and intentions, sometimes we make mistakes in our approach as business owners, managers, coaches or parents.  The most telling of these management mistakes is when we allow a gap between what is said and what is done.  In all of the years I’ve studied human behavior as it relates to performance, reliability and veracity … no other clue is more important.  Or more predictive of what comes next.

Some common gaps where the action (follow-up) doesn’t quite measure up to the platitudes:


  • I’ll challenge you to be a Team player
  • Good work is expected and earns more benefits
  • I’m going to advocate for my subordinates and not kick the ladder down behind me
  • Hard work and focussed effort will pay off
  • If you don’t do your part, I’ll mentor you 


  • Only I get to decide who’s on ‘the Team’
  • Good work is threatening, you’re demoted!
  • I block promotions / self-development chances overtly and covertly
  • Only preferred subordinates get the pay off
  • I won’t train you to do your part and then lambaste you publicly when you fail

Sometimes these miscues are rooted in arrogance, sometimes in neglect, sometimes in the lack of supervision and sometimes in just plain, deficient training.  Like the Teams that we comprise, individuals can only do what they are trained to do so proper training and supervision are often the best and easiest remedy to the fiber-ripping behavior of a struggling manager.

Team building – by any definition – will only succeed, flourish and be sustainable with a the right combination of:

  1. Selfless management
  2. Eager participation
  3. Confidence building challenges
  4. Positive learning environment
  5. Opportunity for personal growth 

But isn’t it about “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”?

If winning is the only objective, then yes.  However, the better question should be:  “should winning be everything?”  And if not, then what are the other objectives that should be pursued?

Clear objectives are where it all starts, friends.  

Training - Private Sector

I live in North Texas and by association and proximity, I’ve been a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan (except for that one year as a Minnesota Vikings fan because in our backyard football extravaganzas as a boy, the Cowboys were taken by the older boys!  Go Purple!).  Like most fans of pro teams, we endure anguish and agony with our team’s losing ways, some more than others.  Sorry, Cleveland.  The off-season is filled with banter about whether the current roster can take us to the big dance: the Super Bowl.  Those teams whose objective is “winning is the only thing” stack the deck with the most experienced players (usually at the end of their career) and budget be-damned, they’re going to buy the best roster and best talent they can to win NOW.

Other teams admit defeat early and claim a “rebuilding year” where new players are drafted, evaluated and fielded just enough to demonstrate a respectable effort by the end of the season.  If they’re smart, they carefully build their roster so that in future years they will have a sustainable winner.

Then there are those that SAY they are going to the Super Bowl but field marginal players and end up giving their fans heartburn year in and year out.  Eventually the person who created the problem loses their mind and fires everyone, or is fired themselves.  Sound familiar Cowboy’s fans?

Know this:  When organizations – of any size or complexity – don’t have their objectives aligned from the top of the organization down to the bottom (and back up again!), the entire Team – and the failed team building effort – eventually gets penalized in one way or another.

 If you’re a part of Team that struggles with player engagement, start at the objectives and ensure they are applicable, well understood and supported.  Then make sure the people who are charged with implementing those objectives are well trained, well supported and if needed, well supervised.

Everyone deserves to be on a Team that is worth cheering for, yes?

Mike McKenna

About the author

Mike McKenna is the founder and president of TEAM Solutions. He helps public and private sector leaders improve their outcomes before, during and after a planned event or unplanned crisis.

Please contact Mike via the Contact page.

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