Why Do Groups Fail and Teams Succeed?


Why do teams succeed where groups fail? A group is a collection of people while a team is a collection of people aligned around a shared cause, purpose or conviction. The key word is alignment.

Building an effective team of people is not simply everyone agreeing on a common purpose or vision, or even on having everyone approve the specific plan to accomplish a shared purpose or vision.  The problem is that people are people, each one driven by different natural behaviors.  Those different behaviors have the potential for great complement – or great conflict. In other words, you need to get underneath the purpose to the underlying behaviors and align there, before the group can execute as a team.

Behavioral Styles at Work.

The problem is that each person’s natural behavior is natural to him or her.  Our own behavioral style is the lens through which each of us sees the world around us.  We become the “standard,” and we try to explain people by how closely they fit or deviate from our “standard.”  The same goes for each of the other team members – each person has their own “standard’ against which he or she tries to explain other people. 

Let me introduce you to Bob and Melinda, two coworkers at an office.  Here’s a snapshot of their typical behaviors:

  • Melinda, an accountant, is quiet and intensely focus on her work. She arrives 15 minutes early each day so she can set herself up for the day. She is highly organized and detail-focused, so when she is working on a spreadsheet she can lock out all outside distractions.  She prides herself on exacting accuracy in her work. 
  • Bob, a member of the sales team, is gregarious, a live wire that loves to make people laugh. Customers love him. You don’t have to guess when Bob is in the office because you’ll hear him in the parking lot as he exchanges jokes and banter with others coming in. He wants to engage with everyone he meets and make them smile.


Here’s the dilemma. When Bob comes into the office, he wants to greet all his teammates. When he approaches Melinda, she’s in the zone and his words don’t register. So Bob goes over to her desk and says in a louder voice, Helooooo Ma-Lin-da! She looks up, irritated at being interrupted, Bob sees her expression and thinks, “she hates me… maybe she’s stuck up and things she’s better than me…” Melinda thinks to herself, “can’t Bob see I’m working? Why does he try to annoy me? He must have it in for me.”

Behaviors: Complement or Conflict

Notice what happened – both assigned an incorrect motive to the other, based on what their own motive or reason would be if they exhibited the same behavior.  For Bob to ignore someone like Melinda would mean to him that he was stuck up,  For Melinda to intrude on someone like Bob did would me she was trying to annoy someone. 

Train wreck every time!

One person’s behavioral style will either complement or be in conflict with another person’s behavioral style, as you saw with Bob & Melinda. Because Bob and Melinda have lived in their own skin all their lives, it is rare that they will fully understand the other person’s behavioral style, let alone fully grasp their own.  What Bob and Melinda do know is that it just doesn’t feel like either is in the same wavelength as the other. It’s uncomfortable at best, and quite annoyed most of the time.  That means Bob and Melinda can never align as a team until they better understand behavioral styles and accept one another as they are.

Once you understand the behavioral profile of each of the people who are on the same work team, you can identify where the complements and conflicts are likely to be, and take steps to effectively leverage the areas in which team members complement one another, and work through the areas of potential conflict.

Fortunately there are some terrific tools to help this process along, courtesy of many of the different behavioral systems like Myers-Briggs® and DISC.  We’ll take a look at a work team beset with a growing level of conflict and frustration and use one of the key sections of a DISC report, Ways to Communicate and Ways NOT to Communicate

Here’s what each person’s Ways to Communicate and Ways Not to Communicate sections said about communicating with him or her:

Ways to Communicate With Bob:

  • Speak at a rapid pace.
  • Come prepared with all requirements, objectives and support material in a well-organized “package.”
  • Present the facts logically; plan your presentation efficiently.
  • Provide “yes” or “no” answers–not maybe.
  • Look for his oversights.
  • Provide facts and figures about probability of success, or effectiveness of options.
  • Expect him to return to fight another day when he has received a “no” answer.
  • Confront when in disagreement.
  • Appeal to the benefits he will receive.
  • Clarify any parameters in writing.
  • Support the results, not the person, if you agree.

Ways NOT to Communicate With Bob:

  • Direct or order.
  • Be paternalistic.
  • Be redundant.
  • Muffle or overcontrol.
  • Forget or lose things, be disorganized or messy, confuse or distract his mind from business.
  • Hesitate when confronted.
  • Ask rhetorical questions, or useless ones.
  • Try to convince by “personal” means.
  • Ramble on, or waste his time.
  • Reinforce agreement with “I’m with you.”
  • Let disagreement reflect on him personally.
  • Take credit for his accomplishments.

Ways to Communicate With Melinda:

  • Patiently draw out personal goals and work with her to help her achieve those goals; listen and be responsive.
  • Prepare your “case” in advance.
  • Give her time to be thorough, when appropriate.
  • Present your case softly, nonthreateningly with a sincere tone of voice.
  • Provide solid, tangible, practical evidence.
  • Watch carefully for possible areas of early disagreement or dissatisfaction.
  • Follow through, if you agree.
  • Define clearly (preferably in writing) individual contributions.
  • Show sincere interest in her as a person. Find areas of common involvement and be candid and open.
  • Give her time to verify reliability of your actions; be accurate, realistic.
  • Look for hurt feelings or personal reasons if you disagree.

Ways NOT to Communicate With  Melinda:

  • Make conflicting statements.
  • Make statements about the quality of her work unless you can prove it.
  • Manipulate or push her into agreeing because she probably won’t fight back.
  • Rush headlong into business or the agenda.
  • Be domineering or demanding; don’t threaten with position power.
  • Rush the decision-making process.
  • Keep deciding for her, or she’ll lose initiative. Don’t leave her without backup support.
  • Dillydally, or waste time.
  • Offer assurance and guarantees you can’t fulfill.
  • Be vague; don’t offer opinions and probabilities.
  • Patronize or demean her by using subtlety or incentive.
  • Leave things to chance or luck.
  • Force her to respond quickly to your objectives. Don’t say “Here’s how I see it.”

Comparing Bob’s and Melinda’s communications preferences each can immediately see how to communicate with the other more effectively, and what causes the other person to shut down. Adapting ones approach to fit the other person is a hallmark of highly effective people, A DISC behavioral assessment provides us with the ways and means of adapting to the other person by getting out of our own ineffective style and being intentional by adopting a more effective style.

DISC behavioral assessments provide more than a dozen sections that offer similar insights into a person’s preferences so that we can know exactly how to adapt our approach.

Bottom line: proper use of alignment tools like DiSC can improve teamwork and team output, remove potential barriers to communications, and reduce the overall levels of stress in the workplace. As a result, a properly aligned team out-produces a group every time!

Bottom Line

Team cultures attract talented people, develop and focus their talents to accomplish better results more efficiently, and retain that top talent. What’s not to like?

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team’s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People™. This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team’s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials™ (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster™

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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