Three Pits of Team Despair

Our purpose with Grow Together Academy is to help more great teams happen.

Great teams that create and learn together.

Great teams that get amazing results, without creating casualties.

That is not always easy.

Sometimes the winds are against us and sometimes we might even find ourselves in a pit of despair.

It can be hard to climb out of a pit of despair.

But rarely is all hope lost, so here are some things to try in common scenarios.

Pit 1: Everyone for themselves

In this pit there is no shared purpose. People are doing things to get what they want, but there’s not much collaboration, in fact people sometimes get in each others way and fight.

Best case: everyone does their own thing independent of others.

There is one more insidious variant here, which we could call hidden misalignment. It happens when there theoretically is a shared purpose in the abstract but people differ on the real world translation. Perhaps without realizing it.

For example:

Let’s make the world a better place!

Andy: Better place? Yes! More freedom!

Ben: Better place? Yes! More order!

Worst case: a classic rat race. Success is mostly individual, helping others means wasting resources or even harming your own chances. For some people to win, others have to lose.

What to do if you’re in this pit (and you can’t or don’t want to leave):

Find allies. Start with a shared interest. Preferably one that is narrow and specific.

Pit 2: It’s crap

In this pit the things we make or do are not good enough – software is slow and keeps crashing, roofs leak, walls are crooked, games are lost, missions fail.

This is a relatively easy one, as long as people care.

What to do with your team:

  1. Find a strong enough WHY for improvement for example by getting inspired by stories and grounding them in your reality.
  2. Don’t dwell too long on what you do NOT want (i.e. the problem). As soon as possible translate it into something you DO want (a desired outcome) and focus on that instead.
  3. Find what IS working well and turn up the good.
  4. Find the next best improvement and attack it.
  5. Learn continuously with the Plan-Do-Reflect loop.

Pit 3: No one cares

This might be the worst one of the three.

In this pit people are deep in learned helplessness and stupor.

They might say things like:

So many attempts failed before, this one will fail as well…

Or they might be busy with their lives outside of the team and team-related opportunities don’t seem attractive enough to move them.

What to do when people don’t care (yet)?

  1. Find out what people DO care about. Find ways to align those benefits with the team purpose. Or at least balance them.
  2. Create a smell of success. Make something good happen and generate evidence that good things are possible afterall.

Build your ladder, rung by rung

In Grow Together Academy we practice most of those strategies to give you practical tools, not just for when everything is going smoothly, but also for more difficult situations.

Share your story

And what do you think?

Have you ever been in one of those pits?

Or a different one?

What did you do to climb out?