Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Excuses for Poor Teamwork and Poor Performance – Find Your Own!

Dan Rockwell posted up a short blog on his LeadershipFreak blog about getting past excuses. The gist was that we make excuses for why we do not do what we are capable of, this for ourselves and for others.

Well, sure. ALL of us are capable of doing more than we do, in some cases a LOT more! I do not think that there is anyone who performs to their maximum potential on anything like a consistent daily basis. Some are frustrated by this, some take the gap as motivational, and some just roll along normally.

Who couldn’t work more hours, engage others in more better teamwork, run faster, eat less, and on and on. And I want to also differentiate the anchor of excuses from the issues of failure. Not getting everything done perfectly is not failure, it just might represent expectations that may or not be too high.

Setting achievable goals is an important issue. If the goals are too low, reaching them is not rewarding. If the goals are too high, trying to achieve them may be frustrating or may cause some kinds of cheating for their achievement. It is about overall balance, I think. Achieving good goals is a good thing for a lot of reasons.

Much of my organizational focus is on engagement, collaboration, and teamwork as they relate to optimizing performance results.

In the case of teams, the players will often throw a Blame Frame around things. I have written about that before in this blog on Trial and Error.

In my Lost Dutchman team building game, for example, we tell the tabletops that the goal of the game is to maximize ROI and to “mine as much gold as we can.” But, often, the phenomenon of “My Team, My Team, My Team” gets in the way and teams compete instead of collaborating and thus sub-optimize the gold that could have been mined. They then make their excuses like blaming the Expedition Leader for not being clear (it is always clear — it is their choice to compete).

After all, it is easier to put blame on others and make excuses rather than focus in on reality. So, the Dutchman game is really a tool to get the tabletop to begin to discuss behavioral alternatives and the requisite variety of options in the game and then make the leap to dealing with those same issues in the workplace. Teams in the workplace are often facing a lot of the same kinds of blame frames and individual choices that do not lead to collaboration and improved results.

Getting people to generate their excuses for performance flaws is often a very good idea since it gives the other members of the team a chance to discuss these and even put peer pressure on each other to not let those get in the way.

In teaching a class on consulting skills a few years ago, I assigned final group projects to triads of 3 people — in nearly every case the individuals came to me fearful that they would individually contribute more than the other two on their team. These were adults with workplace experiences probably paralleling this. So my simple solution was to take 30 minutes of the next class to ask what kinds of excuses there might be for a lack of teamwork and collaboration on these projects. Funny thing– how well that worked to generate solid levels of cooperation and shared effort.

It seems to be a lot about choices and perceived alternative solutions. Too many of us get too close to the wagon too often and fail to step back and see different possibilities. Having different alternatives for change is a key. Requisite variety is the word. If you think that all you have is that hammer, you may use it in different ways but you will still have only a hammer. I think that we can also see that there are different tools in our toolkits and that many of these tools can be applied in different ways.

Teamwork offers an anchor point to excuses, for example. Lots of us choose not to fully participate in teams because of “others.” We either think that we will contribute too much relative to the choices of others or that no one will listen to our ideas because they failed to do so in the past. But much of it is simply driven by how we think.

If you have good excuses for your personal lack of accomplishment, that is fine. Just take a moment, every once in a while, to see if those are still working well for you. After all, you cannot push the wagon at 100% of your effort 24 / 7 — that is just an unreasonable strategy. Step up and push as hard as you can. But also take some time to step back from the wagon every once in a while. You might see some things you could do differently and better.

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Me, I am tired and I think I will go take a nap. After that, I might sneak a peak around and see if I can find some new ideas to play with, like continuing my series of poems about performance.

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I will plan to get back to work later. Heck, I should probably edit this later, too.

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman, team building facilitatorDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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1 Comment

  1. I am comfortable with not doing everything perfectly every time but throwing some mud at the wire fence on occasion to simply see what sticks. This blog is one of those – I think that there are some good ideas in here that I will probably come back to (later) and see if I can build on. Guess that is a good excuse for not being perfect, right? I am outta here!

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