Understanding limitations for teams

I was researching how best to send personalized, mail merge e-mails with attachments to a contact list (using Microsoft Office) when I came across the following disclaimer:

Limitations are inevitable in any task that you try to accomplish with software. Sending e-mail messages by using mail merge is no exception. By understanding these limitations up front, you can sometimes design strategies for working around them. Or, at the very least, you can avoid problems that the limitations might create.

Wow – what goes for software goes can just as easily be said for teamwork.

Limitations are inevitable in any task that you try to accomplish with teamwork.

Each team will have its own unique limitations, based on the skills and characteristics of the team members, resource and time constraints, length of time together, and a myriad of other factors. All teams will face limitations resulting from common factors, such as the human tendencies that Patrick Lencioni identifies: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

I particularly like the problem-solving approach the software disclaimer advances:

  • understand your limitations;
  • attempt to work around limitations; and/or
  • avoid problems that limitations might create.

I think the hardest part for high performing teams is to recognize limits in the first place. Teams often challenge themselves to increase productivity and quality; to outperform their last project. However, these goals may be unrealistic when new members come on board, when new processes are being adopted, or when the project ventures into unfamiliar surroundings.

That’s when it becomes especially important for teams to self-assess and understand their limits, given the unique mix of the team, the project and the environment. Then it is incumbant on team leaders along with other members to adapt expectations and strategies to achieve desired result.

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