Recently I was driving the family car when I noticed a “warning” light appear on the dash – “Service Engine Soon”.  Alarmed, I immediately called my neighborhood mechanic.  He advised me that while it could be numerous things, with the quick use of a diagnostic tool they possessed, and through the use of some “uniform trouble codes”, they should be able to uncover the problem and have my car back to me no time.

Wow.  I wonder if they have such a tool for troubled teams. One that spits outs generally understood “uniform trouble codes” to diagnose teams and individuals that aren’t performing to their potential.  Afterall, isn’t your company’s engine your employees?

I would envision that one could take a team and hook them up to such a device. This device might appear to look something like a polygraph test with wires, monitor and eventually a report. Then boom ba-da bing, problem diagnosed. Therefore, we would have our team in top working order in no time.

Involved in organizational development for a number of years, and having led various types of organizational teams for close to twenty years I could have used this machine a time or two.  However, to my knowledge there is no such device.  Sure, there are assessment tools, such as the DISC Model which our organizational provides and the Meyers Briggs, etc, however, it is still not the same.

I spoke with my mechanic when it was time to pick up the family car.

I found out the issue was in the “transfer case” and after further discussion, I found the problem had been developing for some time.  In fact, our conversation led me to recall a slight yet ever present humming noise that had appeared months earlier, something I had attributed to simple wear and tear.  Well, it was wear and tear – at a substantial mechanical level.

Long story short, and only in retrospect could I now offer that I could have prevented the break down had I been more attune to my car’s needs and of course, taken action.

Interestingly enough, teams can be observed in a similar way.  Teams can lose their edge or perhaps stop functioning as well, and the leader dismisses the lackluster performance to simple wear and tear, more specifically, recent changes, stress, etc.   Please, if there is anything you might garner from this article, it is this: if left unattended, things can get worse and more costly.

When we consider the real cost of a team misfiring, or the opportunity cost of a team not performing to their potential, it substantially outweighs the cost of occasional maintenance in the form of a teambuilding or employee motivation program. For the purposes of full disclosure, yes, this comes from a full fledged organization development person and “teambuilder” (team mechanic) but it stands to reason. Failure to not address maintenance needs will eventually lead to a breakdown and generally becomes more costly than on-going maintenance.

If a team’s performance becomes lackluster or is experiencing a gradual production descent, or, if it appears relationships in the team are worn beyond the typical norms, please do not make the mistake that I did.  The problem will probably not just go away, the light will not magically go off.  Take the time to break from day to day operations and provide some form of maintenance (team building experience).  In the long run, the cost to the organization will be less and the team’s operation will be more reliable.  The end result will be that your organization will remain on the road of success for a much longer time to come.

Charlie SelcerAbout the author: Charlie Selcer has provided organizations with employee training and development through Strictly Success Inc. for over 15 years. Strictly Success is a U.S. based employee training company for both the public and private sectors including some of America’s Fortune 1000 companies. Strictly Success specializes in high performance teams and teambuilding, employee motivation, employee accountability and change management.

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