Symptoms are Seldom the True Cause of Team Issues

Secretary bad dayNo matter what team issues your group is experiencing, odds are that the true cause of your pain is seldom cured by addressing only the symptoms.

While I am certainly not a doctor, there are interesting correlations between how we manage both common medical issues and negative organizational behaviors.

Have you ever had a headache?

Depending on the research you read, anywhere between 50 and 90% of all people suffer from occasional tension headaches, where mild to moderate pain is often experienced on both sides of the head, and described as “tightening”.  The common treatment of tension headaches revolves around symptom control, usually leading to the use of over the counter medications such as Tylenol, Advil or aspirin to “dull” the pain.

But dulling the pain does not solve the problem or make it go away.

The true source of a tension headache is often emotional stress, but they can also be triggered by poor posture, fluorescent light, or even a lack of sleep.  Taking an Advil doesn’t address the cause.  And by only addressing the symptoms, the true source of your headache may continue to produce more future headaches.

Another example of this is found in people who experience back pain.

If you have suffered pain between your shoulder blades, that symptom may not be what you need to treat.  In fact, in most cases, that pain in the middle of your back is NOT something that a back massage or Advil will cure.

The true source of that particular back pain may likely be found in your chest muscles!

Many people work hunched over a computer keyboard, and by doing so they allow their pectoral (chest) muscles to tighten up and atrophy.  As that happens, the back muscles are stretched beyond their normal comfort zone – and that creates the symptom of back pain.

But if you were to have someone rub your back, the true cause would not go away and the back pain would continue to recur.  The most effective solution is to address the true cause – stretch your chest by standing in a doorway, with your arms spread wide beyond each side of the door frame to allow those pectoral muscles to release their restricted tension.

And so it is with your organization…

Whatever issues you may see as a symptom of poor performance on your team may not be the true cause of your team’s dysfunction.

Poor teamwork is an umbrella term that describes many unproductive behaviors, but many of those behaviors are just symptoms that should be addressed by dealing with the true source of your team pain.

Are your people unwilling to collaborate with others?

Are there bad attitudes or cliques of negativity that you feel you need to break up?

Each of these symptoms can present themselves as different types of team pain, but the more likely cause is that they are struggling to deal with other team personality types.  Ignorance of other’s skills or personality profiles can lead to low morale, poor communication, and a lack of trust.  Investing in a custom team training workshop can have a tremendously positive impact on team interactions.

Are your people sluggish or unmotivated?

Are there individuals who seem disengaged?

Some managers may see these team members as problems and separate them from the group in a type of quarantine.  But if you focus on the symptom that is their individual behavior, you may miss finding the real cause, which could often be a lack of clear expectations, encouragement, or sense of ownership.

If someone on your staff feels that they are stagnating professionally, or if they are only given vague instructions paired with frequent criticisms, then replacing that person may likely only result in a similar situation with other team members in the future.  A much more effective treatment may be to provide your entire team with more specific or compelling goals, or to include them and ask their advice in more decisions, or just to catch them doing something right more often.

These obviously are very basic examples, but I encourage you to consider which “team headaches” you are now experiencing that may actually need to be addressed by something other than the Advil you have been using.

If there are recurring team issues in your organizational culture, you may benefit from the insights, laughter, and lessons on team development that a fun team building event or interactive team building speaker can share!

If you liked this article, you will want to request free access to Sean’s Teamwork Toolbox – over 50 useful handouts and activities for smart team leaders!