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Barriers to Employee Teamwork


If you are having difficulty keeping your self-directed teams working smoothly, you can likely trace these obstacles back to a few root causes. These causes are intertwined, and stem from correctable management behaviors.

Teamwork struggles typically boil down to five root causes:

  • Employees don’t understand management’s motives.
  • Expectations are not clear.
  • Employees or managers are resisting change.
  • Management shows a lack of participation and/or appreciation.
  • Top management is not really committed to the concept or change.

(Source: “Why Teams Can Fail and What to Do About It” by Darcy Hitchcock.)

To overcome a lack of trust or misunderstandings, improve communication.

Create a clear statement of why operating as self-directed teams is a benefit for them.  Initiate open, honest discussion of employees’ worries about change. Make sure the “what’s in it for them” is clear. You can never over communicate a change and the benefits for the group/team.

To make expectations clear, specify what powers you want teams to assume.

Education is essential. Empower your team!

Give employees input, resources, and again, be available for clarifying questions. Develop a list of short and long-range team responsibilities and allow teams to choose which short-term responsibilities to work on first. Bring them along to be a part of the process. This will gain their trust and buy in much faster.

To overcome resistance at all levels, develop and communicate a shared vision and a noble mission for your organization.

Help everyone appreciate the business necessity of implementing teams. Make sure it is clear, and communicated, on how their role and/or work relates back to the shared organization vision and mission.

Emphasize the financial gains of teamwork.

Use a team-based compensation system of rewards or recognition. Individual reward systems breed competitiveness rather than teamwork.

Help those who resist, whether it is fear of change or fear of “status”, to see how, in a team environment, their old roles and practices are counterproductive.  Again, explain the benefits and “what’s in it for them”.

To improve management’s participation, increase structured feedback (such as focus groups, 360 feedback surveys, and feedback meetings) until they can understand the need for this change.

Be involved, but don’t do or decide anything teams could do themselves. Lead by actions and communicate you are there to help, not to solve it all. Empower them to think outside of the box and use their problem-solving skills.

What are the key indicators that you have a high performing team?

Researchers in one study involving 1,200 employees in an apparel factory, probed the question: Why do some teams perform at higher levels than others?

The employer in this study had converted to team-based sewing from individual piece-rate. Although this increased overall productivity and quality, the teams still showed as much as 100 percent variance between the best and worst performers. The study concluded that about 85 percent of the variance in team performance is found in five areas:

Attractiveness of performance. Team members who require higher levels of performance to feel satisfied also perform at higher levels.

Agreement with team goals. Goal levels established and agreed upon by the team are extremely important in predicting both performance and quality. Teams reporting high disagreement with the goal are lower performers.

Willingness to use cross-training. Teams that are more committed to using cross-training (willingness to fill in for other team members) perform at higher levels and have better quality output.

Team effectiveness. Performance is positively related to the confidence that team members have in themselves and their teams.

Team commitment. Higher levels of team commitment are associated with better performance. Many factors, including those listed above, influence workers’ commitment to a team. An interesting finding was that teams whose members perceive themselves as less autonomous and less aggressive also report greater team commitment.

At the end of the day, the old saying, “teamwork makes the dream work” really does hold true. When there is trust and commitment in the team and their leadership, goals are achieved and targets are met, and the work environment is a breeding ground for success, for everyone.

Change is hard. If it’s time for your team take the first step towards optimum team performance, VonLehman HR Consultants can provide additional support and guidance to create an action plan.

Contact VonLehman’s Human Resources Consulting Group at 800.887.0437 for guidance related to this topic.

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