You might be suffering from team drift and not know it. We’ve all heard stories of individuals who wake up one morning and wonder how they had drifted so far from their original hopes and dreams. The same thing can happen to teams.
One of the most common complaints I hear from managers is, “I want to revitalize our team. We used to be a great team, but we’ve lost energy and focus.”
These teams are suffering from what I call team drift – where a once high-performing team gradually loses its focus and capabilities without anyone noticing what’s happening.
This is different from a sudden change that derails a team. Team drift is caused by a series of small things, each insignificant on its own, but which have a cumulative impact. Because it happens so slowly, it’s often not noticed until it’s too late.
Team drift can occur for a variety of reasons.
- Team members can get trapped by their own success. They stop taking risks, unwilling to lose what they have accumulated.
- The gradual replacement of team members over time can cause a team to become disconnected from its history and original purpose.
- Sometimes team drift occurs because members shift to a short-term focus. Individuals begin to focus solely on their own piece and lose the perspective of what’s best for the entire team.
7 Warning Signs of Team Drift
If any of these warning signs apply to your team, it’s possible your team has begun to drift.
- You leave meetings feeling like they’ve been a waste of time, or you decide to stop having team meetings because they’re not productive.
- You have to redo work or discover there’s been duplication of efforts.
- There is an increase in interpersonal conflicts within the team.
- Team members don’t have access to the information they need to do the job right and end up having to redo work.
- Team members are inundated with day-to-day demands. Everything is a priority.
- Crisis management has become a way of life. As soon as one problem is solved, another appears.
- No one is having fun.
If Your Team Has Drifted, Call a Time Out and Team Huddle
We can look to sports for a way to address team drift. What does the coach do when the team is losing focus? They call a time out. Taking a time out to regroup and refocus allows you to reset your trajectory, re-energize your team, and get back to work as a high performance team.
Pull your team together for a huddle and take these steps:
1. Describe what you have observed and the effect it has had on you in a non-judgmental way. This will set the tone for an open, honest and non-defensive conversation.
2. Open up the conversation by asking others what they are experiencing. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard. It’s important that all viewpoints are recognized as valid.
3. Revisit your vision. In Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision, we define vision as knowing who you are, where you’re going, and what will guide your journey.
- Who you are is your purpose. As a team, come to agreement on questions like, “Why do we exist?” “What purpose do we serve?” and “What is the greater good that we provide to the organization?”
- Where you’re going is the picture of what it looks like when you are fulfilling your purpose. Discuss what the team would look like if it were operating at full force. What would relationships look like between team members? How would the team be viewed by the rest of the organization?
- What will guide your journey are your shared values. Agree on the operating values that guide how you work together.
4. Determine course-correcting actions. Discuss what actions will move your team toward your shared vision and what do you need to change about the way you work together. Caveat: Do not jump to problem-solving before you have re-established your shared vision. If you are not in agreement about where you’re going, your actions will simply cause you to drift faster.
Team drift can have as devastating an impact as a major disruption, but it comes on so slowly we don’t notice it until it’s too late. So true! Appreciate your point about teams resting on their laurels and slipping as a result. Have been there myself.
I think teams that have gotten a lot of recognition for their performance are particularly at risk for team drift if they don’t set their sights on new challenges.
The point regarding ‘fun’ is important. Camaraderie indeed plays a vital role in keeping the glue intact amongst the team members!
Also, it helps to revisit the goals and perhaps add stretch elements, raise the bar so that the team can look forward to scripting new success stories.
Glad you picked up the importance of “fun.” Aspects of the work might not be fun, but if work becomes a drudge, you can be sure team morale will be affected. Research into team effectiveness has identified two key variables: productivity and morale. Agree that revisiting the vision and setting new goals is essential. Thanks for enriching the conversation Nitin.
For those of us who have sailed, drifting off course requires an adjustment in order to set the ship straight again towards the goal or objective. It used to be that we needed tools like a compass, nautical charts, and other tools and skills to be a good navigator. Now, the GPS and Autopilot takes care of many of those things except that changing currents, tides and, as you point out, drifting off course without noticing can still present a challenge. Imagine waking up one morning and saying to your team, “Where exactly are we?” It’s a great exercise for the team meeting that day.
And when you sail, you don’t always point directly at your destination because the wind and other conditions require adjustments… but you keep your eye on your destination. Asking the question – “Where exactly are we?” in relation to our destination is an excellent exercise.
I really like your term “drift” as it says to me that you can get back on track, which is extremely important. Thank you for adding another term to my team lexicon.
Thanks Julie. Creating a term to identify a phenomenon is a way to quickly identify it and then address it.
Great post. For all those reasons, I love it when I can facilitate teams and help them find the spark to recharge. All of those session have to have an element of play and fun as well as food. Laughing together and eating together are bonding experiences. Thanks, Jesse
Always appreciate your thoughts Eileen!
“Why do we exist?” or even, “Why is it important that we exist?” Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on Mission Statements really helped bring into focus the link between that question and the Mission Statement. Makes me think even teams can have their own MS, along with shared (and defined together) values. And this just drifts me over to Chris Edmonds’ work with Intentional Culture. Thanks for a great post!
Indeed it is important for teams. In Full Steam Ahead! we explain the process. Thanks for adding these references Dave