Tag Archives: Teamwork

End the Blame Game

team conflict

Over the years I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects and seen many times when things haven’t gone well.  At times the problems were due to unexpected issues, other times they were due to things that were overlooked.  There were even a few times when gaps were identified before they could wreck disaster on the project.  Unfortunately too often people get caught up in the blame game; before, during or after a problem occurs.

On one project a problem was found prior to the deadline and the root cause was a found to be a system design flaw.  Unfortunately the flaw was found right before our deadline so all we could do was implement a work-around initially.  Since the flaw didn’t impact the primary process it was missed because not all the processes that used this part of the system were mapped.  A couple of weeks before the deadline the gaps were found and the scrambling began.

At first there were a bunch of meetings about how this got missed and who was at fault.  Fingers were pointed and blame was placed.  This led the people who were blamed to spend time explaining how it wasn’t their fault and that they did their best.  We lost a week or more to these pointless conversations.  Negativity and defeat were prevalent.  Finally the emotions calmed enough for the team to focus on what needed to happen to meet our deadline.  In a few days we were able to identify fixes for all the gaps once the focus shifted to where we needed to go.  Sadly even as we started making progress a few folks would start to vent their frustration that these issues were identified sooner.  Negativity would start creeping in again.

Our project manager had to keep reminding everyone on the target – a successful implementation on our deadline.  Keeping the team looking forward and focused on the key tasks at hand was critical to our eventual success.  He set short-term and long-term priorities and kept us focused on what had to happen next and who could get it done.  He shut down the negative talk and kept us looking at the end goal.  As we came together to find solutions to the gaps we moved past the negativity and started to find the positive in an ugly situation.

We were able to be succeeded by following these three strategies:

  1. Shift the Focus: When you are looking at the problems all you see are problems.  As you start to focus on possible solutions it becomes easier to find the positive in the situation.  Success breeds success.
  2. Worry about Blame Later: It is important to determine what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future but solve the problems first.  Once the issues are resolved everyone can learn from looking at what could be done better in the future.
  3. Check Emotions at the Door: In the heat of the moment it’s easy to let our emotions get away from us.  When that happens, anger and frustration can take the lead side tracking progress and causing people to shut down.  Keep things focused on fixing the problems and not fixing people.

Problems during projects are inevitable; however handling them well is possible.  It requires the right focus and the skills to manage people well.  When a team hits a challenge, the more time they spend on placing blame the longer it will take to get to a satisfactory solution.  Identify the source, focus on the fixes and then worry about the lessons to be learned.  Taking valuable time to find someone to blame is futile and counterproductive.  Solutions aren’t found and people become defensive, overall the entire team can get stuck.  Focus on moving forward and setting a positive tone.  The results from your team will be astounding.

What tips do you have for overcoming the blame game to move forward to success?


Filed under Team Building

Do You Support or Cheer Your Team

Assistance (with clipping path)As part of a work team you often have several roles to play: instigator, critic, supporter, cheerleader, or ditch digger.  Most of these roles are pretty clear cut you know each is unique and can tell who is playing which role at any given time.  However, it can be a fine line between supporter and cheerleader.  There are times when we think we are providing support when all we are really doing is cheering someone on.  Maybe that is all the support they need, but what if they need more help.

The difference between supporting and cheering is in the meaning of the words and how they show up in teams.  Support means to advocate, assist, help, corroborate, or maintain.  Cheer means spirit, animation, welcome or something that gladdens.  So when you get down to it supporting your team means getting your hands dirty (figuratively) and helping get stuff done.  Cheering the team on can be a form of support when morale is low and people need some encouragement to keep going, however it may not be enough to really help move things forward.

Business cheerleader

My office was next to Judy’s and she brought a lot of life and fun to the department.  You could always count on her to find something to laugh about and her energy level was so high she brought the rest of us up whether we wanted it or not.  While she was great fun when we had projects to pull together and it was all hands on deck to help, she would be tied up with other duties or in meetings elsewhere.  At times it was maddening because another set of hands would have cut our time down significantly.  Another person in our group was Karla, who was a very positive person and would always look for the positive in any situation.  Karla’s energy wasn’t even close to Judy’s yet she was in many ways the rock of the department.  If you were tackling a big project, or working to figure something out you could count on Karla to show up and pitch in, often unasked.  There were more than one occasion where Karla would set aside her work to help out; just to make sure things got done in a timely manner. 

I can tell you I dearly loved working with both of these ladies, they were wonderful people and I learned from each of them.  I can also honestly say that I would work with Karla any day and often wish she was around to help me get unstuck now.  Judy was fun and enjoyable to be around yet I don’t find myself wishing she was on my team today.

Judy was a cheerleader first and foremost.  Karla was a supporter before she was a cheerleader.  While teams need some of both roles the supporters are the ones who are most valuable to the team.  Anyone can be a cheerleader when it’s needed, however it’s hard for some people to be supporters.  Thinks about your interactions with your team, do you support first or cheer first?  Offer your hand to help more often than you give pep talks.  That is just as encouraging and often more needed.

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Filed under Team Building

Team Members Who Need Help

Assistance (with clipping path)As the holidays approach and the year-end crunch hits full stride often there are people on your team who get overwhelmed and fall behind.  What do you do when you see that going on?  Do you duck and hide because your plate is over full as well or do you step up to see what you can do to help?

As much as all of us would like to pretend that our personal life never crosses over into our work life that just isn’t the case.  This time of the year seems to bring out the worst of that for most everyone.  There are parties to plan/attend, gifts to buy, people to see and a million things to get done and then we have to go to work.  It’s easy to get swamped by all that needs to happen and people can get behind at this time of the year.

Here are a few tips for helping out someone who is struggling to get the job done:

  1. Ask if they need help.  Often people will plod along trying to get things done without asking for help because they don’t want to appear needy, or incompetent.
  2. Find out what’s causing the issue.  There may be a real problem that needs to be addressed that has caused them to get behind.  It may be they have been sick and missed some time, or a family member is sick, or they are taking on extra work to cover for someone who is taking time off.  There are many reasons that cause a person to get behind, so find out what’s going on.
  3. Focus on the required results.  When discussing what is going on keep the person focused on their work requirements to help them prioritize all their items.  When you are overwhelmed it’s easy to lose track of what’s required by focusing on all the little items.
  4. Avoid making it personal.  To get the team through the problems at hand it’s important to address the problems without making it personal.  Making someone feel guilty or lazy or incompetent isn’t going to help them get moving.  Address the problems and find solutions to get things back on track.
  5. If it’s a chronic problem, address it.  If the person who is struggling with their work is someone who seems to regularly get behind it may be a more serious performance issue.  If so, get with the right people to get it addressed.  Bailing these folks out yet again doesn’t solve the problem and it doesn’t help them or the team.

All of us need help at some time or another so being kind to your struggling teammates will make them more receptive to helping you when you need it.  Step up if one of your team is falling behind.  Knowing that someone cares and is willing to help out may be all the boost they need to get back on task.

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The Mousetrap and Teamwork

It’s very easy to put our head down or look away when we see someone who is struggling with a problem at work.  We have so much to do ourselves, how can we afford the time to help them out?  Besides it’s not really our issue is it?

Below is a parable of the mouse and the mousetrap which shows the importance of getting involved when one of the team is facing a challenge.

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.

“What food might this contain?” The mouse wondered – he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning. “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The pig sympathized, but said, “I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers.”

The mouse turned to the cow and said “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!”

The cow said, “Wow, Mr. Mouse. I’m sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose.”

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone.

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house — like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught.

The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient.

But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral; the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think it doesn’t concern you, remember — when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.

Author unknown

Next time you see one of the team struggling with an issue or a problem step up and see if you can help.  It likely will help the entire team reach their goals more easily.  If nothing else, you will have a supporter when you need a helping hand.


Filed under Leadership, Team Building