How to Involve Your Team in Creating Vision and Strategy
Successful leaders are intensely curious

team drift will run your team agroundYou 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.


A version of this post first appeared in Harvard Business Review: Diagnose and Cure Team Drift by Jesse Lyn Stoner
Photo credit: Bigstock: Pongiluppi
How to Involve Your Team in Creating Vision and Strategy
Successful leaders are intensely curious

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