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Teams Don’t Change—People Do

I can’t even count the number of times it has happened. A group of people—a nominal team—sits across the table from each other, each sharing the same conviction that some action or course correction should be taken. The team is too lax and needs more urgency, or relationships are poorly developed, and trust needs to be deepened. Everyone knows the issue(s), but each is waiting for “the team” to change. It is my strong conviction that teams don’t change—only people can do that.

Effective team-level work should certainly focus on the group needs and change goals, but the effort should culminate with an action plan, within which each individual commits to an action that will somehow benefit the team (and likely his or her own development).

  • Let’s say the team needs to be more respectful of start, stop and deliverable times—then my action could be to commit to being 5 minutes early to the next meeting and an agreement to come with an agenda whose time boundaries will be honored.
  • If trust is lacking on the team, I will commit to sharing more personal information with my teammates—to open up and bring a bit more vulnerability with my colleagues.

The tendency too often is for team members to conclude (silently) that the team needs some new behavior, but that he or she, personally, does not need to do anything differently.

Team culture and group-level behaviors change only when critical mass of the team’s members have stepped into their committed actions. In other words, each member of the team (or a majority of them, at least) must show up with new behavior for the team to change.

Think and goal collectively, but act individually because teams don’t change, people do.

Team image

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