If my team develops action plans that could fail, what should I do?

If a review of the plans suggests there may be some weaknesses, then it may be appropriate to spend some further time revising them. Even then, despite the best efforts of your team, the plans may not succeed. The group may have made assumptions that proved to be untrue. Or they tried to plan too far ahead. Or unforeseen events occurred either within or outside the organization, beyond the team's control.

Plans may also depend on others' efforts, and these individuals may not be motivated to help. Sometimes, the plan depends on some help from senior management but top management is unable to make the promised commitment of people or other resources. Whatever the reason, some of the plans made during the planning or goal-setting meeting just don't work. Then, you need to modify the plans.

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You don't want to let your team get in the habit of walking away from a goal or plan if it isn't working. Generally during the goal setting, you spent some time identifying the factors critical to the action plan and estimating how they could go awry. Actions are taken then to prevent these problems from happening. But when problems still occur, the group should be able to come together to develop a contingency plan (a Plan B) that will enable the group to still achieve the objective. The team rethinks how it is to achieve the planned outcome. New avenues are identified, and a new schedule is determined to achieve the goal.

Sometimes, a review of the situation suggests that the goal at this point can't be reached. Modification of the plan or even the goal isn't sufficient. Or a new plan may negatively affect an existing plan, drawing vital resources from it, and the new goals and objectives have to be adjusted. Or one department's objective overlaps or conflicts with another's. Then you and your team need to make tough decisions about available resources and areas of responsibility.

Throughout this process, you need to be the department cheerleader, maintaining group enthusiasm by pointing to accomplishments.

What mistakes do managers make that undermine team productivity?

A sense of teamwork is easily destroyed by a manager who fails to practice what he or she preaches. Such a manager promises to share decision making with staff members but does not do so. Candid and full debate over an issue is abandoned by the manager who talks about team meetings and shared leadership yet dominates meetings and hoards responsibility. The manager may talk about empowering team members or, at least, letting team members engage in participative management—influence how work is done, if not how decisions regarding the work are made—but does neither. They are manipulations designed to get maximum work from the department. Instead, decisions tend to be made by the formal leader with little involvement of other team members.

Managers may involve members in meetings. But the bottom line in involvement of employees is this: Are member ideas utilized to reach the decision?

This is not to say that teamwork demands that leaders abdicate their authority and give it to team members, as already mentioned. Teams need to agree up front about how they will operate. If you want to build a sense of teamwork yet retain a strong leadership role, all you need do is communicate that to the team.

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Let's assume that you want to share leadership of the team with its members. If that is so, then here are some further steps to take:

The team structure must be supported by senior management and the organizational structure—the team concept can fail from lack of support and commitment of top management. The team structure should:

Focus less on task activities and more on team member relationships.

Encourage employees to display self-discipline and to take responsibility for their own behavior and actions.

Offer sufficient training so all know best how to operate as a team.

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