Why Teams Get Stuck

My son’s car headed down our 200-foot driveway toward the street. Despite a few inches of snow, the drive was fully plowed and snow melted by the sun. So he was confident navigating the right turn at the bottom of the hill onto the street, like he’d done many times. Or so he thought.

The snow on the street had not melted, and was pressed down by traffic.  More like a hockey rink than a street.  As he tried to turn he slid straight across the street into an embankment of snow, engulfing the front of the car.  He was stuck, just spinning his wheels.

Teams Get Stuck, Too

Teams and groups are complex. People in them have ideas, expectations, assumptions and personalities. As a result, stuff happens. On paper, it all works perfectly…but it gets messy when people show up. A group can slide into a relational or strategic snowdrift and, without help, and wind up spinning their wheels.

Common Causes

The “stuck-ness” is felt in a meeting, observed in relationships, and even sensed in the leader. The team starts to feel flat, directionless, uncertain, and folks hesitate to act. Soon there is a general, unspoken consensus that though things are not going poorly, they just aren’t going anywhere.

Here are two potential causes:


Members wonder, “Why are we here? Where are we going? Why do we have this team and how does it contribute to the mission?”

As team connection erodes, you can feel in people’s words as members begin to ramble in their comments, using tiresome cliché’s and vague approaches to their work.  There is neither consistency in their language nor clarity in their focus. It feels disconnected and a waste of precious time.

The team lacks cohesion - the “stickiness” that defines a team resulting from two key factors: a compelling need for the team to exist, and a clear purpose and direction. Unfortunately, most people do no know where their team is going except “we meet Tuesdays at 2:00” and have no real reason for existing.

Conversely, when a team has a compelling vision and purpose, and members realize they desperately need ech other to get their work done, then the members begin to stick together, work together and achieve results together.

Sticky is good. Stuck is not.


Teams may start with clarity and focused intention, but drift off course, a few degrees every month, until one day they ask, “Where are we and how did we get here?” Three kinds of drift that are common to teams and groups.

Vision Drift: Losing the Focus

This occurs when we have meetings  without movement, activity without purpose. Ask yourselves:

  • Do we understand what gives us a sense of community and why our relationships are essential to our growth and mission?
  • Is our structure simply task-driven or are we rooted in a deeper core philosophy and vision?
  • Is our communication — verbal and written — focused and productive?
  • How we respond when faced with energy-sapping obstacles, like external distractions, or internal skirmishes?

Strategy Drift: Wandering

Once the vision and values of community are taught and embraced it is easy to think everyone “gets it.” Again, some diagnostic questions:

  • Is everyone - leadership, staff and others - clear on our overall strategy and how our team(s) fuel the mission?
  • How do each of our focus areas align with the strategy?
  • Would our groups and teams be characterized as connected communities where members develop s leaders not just execute the required tasks?

Personal Drift: Losing Passion

We lose energy for the cause and need renewal and restoration. Here are some helpful questions:

  • Am I experiencing the passion and energy needed to bring my best to the group?
  • Am I finding places for emotional, intellectual and physical re-creation?
  • How is my personal connection with other members? Am I modeling the kind of relationships with people that we all envision for the team?

It Takes a Leader

Leaders can help teams and groups get un-stuck. Spend some time talking about these challenges at each meeting. Get the team moving again…and do it together.

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