How to Be Productive in Ineffective Teams


              Not every team is productive, and a lot of teams out there are plainly inefficient due to a variety of reasons, but that is no excuse to get comfortable with the status quo and let it negatively impact your work ethic. Productive employees can sometimes feel discouraged seeing other team members low productivity levels or being turned down by a manager upon suggesting some tweaks to make the team/ work better. It is true that managers themselves sometimes simply do not want the extra work involved with the suggestion, but sometimes it is all about how that information is portrayed, how your work ethic is perceived by others, and if those suggestions are actually viable. It is important to be mindful of how the team’s culture or how the productivity of others can ultimately impact the way you work. This article will draw the characteristics of ineffective teams, portray a picture of successful teams and ultimately show how to be an effective employee.

Characteristics of Ineffective Teams

Ineffective teams tend to have a negative impact on the individual which may cause team morale to decline. Decreased team morale may create a tendency for increased employee stress, absenteeism and turnover. The IZA Institute of labor economics concluded that, a 1 percentage increase in sick leave decreases productivity by 0.24%. American Progress estimates that in the US, the median cost of turnover was 21% of their annual salary. This number can be higher or lower from region to region as labor laws may require different sets of benefits for sickness, absenteeism and turnover. To assess ineffective teams, Stanford sourced 11 characteristics from The Human Side of Enterprise and The Wisdom of Teams:

1. There is low unity of purpose.

2. The group tends to avoid discussion of its own maintenance.

3. The group has low or ambiguous performance goals for itself.

4. The atmosphere is likely to reflect either indifference

5. A few people tend to dominate.

6. Personal feelings are hidden.

7. Disagreements are not generally dealt with effectively by the group.

8. Actions are often taken prematurely before the real issues are either examined or resolved.

9. There are one or more group members who do not carry their fair share

10. Criticism may be present, but it is tension-producing or hostile.

11. There is a dominant figure in the group who seeks to gain and retain power in the group.

Characteristics of a Successful Team

Understanding the characteristics of an ineffective team helps to know what not to do, but it can be just as important to look at what the team is doing or can do to be successful. Successful or productive teams and organizations tend to have one thing in common, positivity, according to a study on The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science (JABS). The study looks at how caring, support, avoidance of fault and forgiveness, being well treated and others have a direct impact on productivity. Emma Seppälä’s article on HBR which talk about JABS research goes into a little more detail in case you don’t have access to the Journal. Google’s re:Work has also spent countless hours attempting to find what makes a team, a great team and it involves:

1. Psychological safety
2. Dependability
3. Structure & clarity
4. Meaning of work
5. Impact of work

Characteristics of an Effective Individual

              There is a vast list of reasons as to why someone may find themselves unmotivated at their work, starting with stress, emotional reasons, or even being a bad fit for the company. Whatever the reason might be, workers who are unproductive and/or have a bad work ethic may end up having a negative effect on the work ethic of their colleagues. That is why maintaining awareness of such occurrence, can help you actively manage your work ethic, so you are not negatively impacted by the environment around you. Besides being aware of your own work ethic, here’s a list of things you can do to stay on track:

                Make Productivity a Habit: take notes of productive behaviour that you have, and how you can improve upon it. Look at traits, actions, behaviour and thinking that have brought success to others in the same industry and other industries and determine how it can potentially be implemented to you. Make your productivity a habit, in that way, you may not turn pray to unproductive culture spillover that may be around you. If things go slow at work and you start to feel unproductive, make sure to take a hobby that makes you feel productive – this way your productivity won’t get rusty.

              Avoid Me vs. Them Trap: some employees who see themselves as productive, may come to resent other members of the group who they judge not to be as productive. The reality of the matter is that it is hard to understand why someone is acting the way they are, specially at work – so give people the benefit of the doubt and focus on your end of the bargain, not theirs. Ultimately, a team should work together to overcome what they have been tasked with. If you think of your team in terms of “I’m productive, therefore I’m better than them”, it just widens the gap between you and your colleagues and it may result in further conflicts and negative habits that propagates unproductive behaviour because of the sense of resentment and the lack of cooperation. Individuals who don’t feel valued by their employers and coworkers in relation to what they bring should think of both internal and external exit strategies.

              Maintain Professionalism and Respect: resentment and the “me vs. them” trap may lead to unprofessional and disrespectful undertones and actions. Disrespect is never justifiable, no matter the situation. Maintain your professionalism by focusing on your work and steps to improve your performance and work ethic. If it has come to the point where the relationship between you and your colleagues has gone sour with no opportunity for improvements, it may perhaps be the time to seek another team or change company altogether. It is worth noting that self reflection is also merited in such cases. Take the opportunity to understand your end of the bargain and what you could have done differently and how it affected the dynamic.

Shift your approach to unproductive situations by making yourself busy with thinking about the solution, not the problem. People may have the tendency to see a problem and simply complain about, instead of trying to solve it or doing something about it. To leave things for other people to solve and not to anything about it, puts you in the same position as them. So, have a different approach to inefficiency:

              Make Projects Out of Inefficiencies: whenever you come across situations that are inefficient and unproductive, try to think about how you could solve the situation. If it is a situation that could greatly benefit the company, your team, your life or it’s just something you actually care about, consider how it fits with your schedule and if possible, pursue the project. Understand why things are the way they are and think of the resources available and required to make that change for the better.

              Make Your Solutions Realistic: would people actually benefit from such solution? First, be sure to understand exactly what the problem is and who it affects – is it you? Your team? The company? The client? Someone else? Then, start thinking on how to solve the problem and what it would take to implement such solutions. Is it truly going to improve work efficiency? Then, write down the solution and do some sample testing. Let’s say it’s an excel file that collects error data. So, start using the file for a week or so. Then think of the implications of such document, is it going to help the team be more efficient? If so, bring it to your managers attention, explain how it could be used and why. Don’t forget to mention the benefit of such solution and why company should spend valuable resources (human capital, power, etc.) on this project.

              Use Data to Guide Decision Making: part of making your solution realistic is making it objective and using data to guide them. Think of the solution’s cost (the hourly wage you spent developing the solution could be part of it – otherwise it would be a sunken cost in case you were just twiddling your thumbs with no other activity in sight. Compare its cost to its potential benefit and make sure to include this analysis as part of your documentation. Understand what drives decision making within the company, is it cost savings, increase in revenue, reduced errors, something else or a mixture? Use data and these drivers to support your idea.

              Make a Portfolio Out of Your Solutions: make sure that all this work does not go to waste in case your manager turns down the idea. Even if the solution is not used by your team today, it may still be valuable in a different form in the future, so save it in your portfolio for future reference. Moreover, even if this project does not work for a specific case, it might be useful for another or as a reference of your critical thinking in future job applications. Make sure to not save company data by mistake – substitute data for mock information – and remember to consider that your contract may treat the work as company intellectual property, which means it is illegal to take it elsewhere.

              Become a Silent Leader: not all solutions you create need to be brought to your manager’s attention right away. Sometimes, the solutions can be self-contained, meaning that the value it brings to yourself is enough. Other times, it can be brought to coworkers’ and other relevant parties. Small incremental improvements may have a huge impact on an individual or team’s performance, similar to how mathematically, the value of 1.01^365=37.8 is substantially higher than 0.99^365=0.03. Always keep track of improvements you have done, it can be used during performance review or future job searches.


             Turn that frown upside down and try to make the best out of the challenges at work! In case you are looking for some ready-made solutions to improve your and/ or your team’s performance, check out the following free excel-based solutions the GPetrium team has prepared:

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