When Intelligent Teams Fail to Perform

In our February OD Café, we explored team intelligence through the lens of traditional African leadership principles. We discussed how concepts like Ubuntu and collective decision-making can provide a solid foundation for developing intelligent teams. Recently a colleague asked, “why do we need team intelligence?” The simple answer would be to achieve business results. Having intelligent teams for the sake of it serves no one if all that intelligence is not anchored by actual work and purpose. 

The question brought me to a critical “now what” question: Team intelligence does not automatically translate into high performance. It is possible for teams to possess high levels of intelligence and yet still underperform. I’m curious to hear about what’s happening in organisations with regards to this, but for now, I believe that the issue is nuanced and lies in the interplay between intelligence and execution.

The Irony of Team Intelligence

Have you ever been part of a team that seemed to have everything going for it in terms of intelligence, yet struggled to deliver results? If so, what was missing? While team intelligence (including the collective cognitive, emotional, and social capabilities of a team) is crucial, it’s not the whole picture.

Imagine a team that’s incredibly innovative and collaborative, they come up with brilliant ideas and solutions but frequently miss project deadlines. Or think of one that buzzes with creativity and strong interpersonal relationships but fails to hit the targets. Why does this happen? Let’s explore three key factors:

  • Lack of Clear Goals and Direction- Even the most intelligent teams can stumble without well-defined goals and a clear direction.  The organisation has an overall strategy, and the team needs clarity on how it fits into this strategy and what it needs to get done. If not, the team’s intelligence may not be effectively applied to achieving tangible outcomes.
  • Inefficient Task Execution- Intelligence alone doesn’t ensure efficient task execution. A team might excel in brainstorming but struggle to follow through on implementation. How does this happen? Teams can get caught up in conceptualisation without a structured plan to execute their ideas effectively.
  • Over-Emphasis on Process vs. Results- While building strong team processes and relationships is important, it shouldn’t overshadow the actual work. Recently, we received a request for a team development intervention focused only on relational dynamics. However, in our discovery process, we challenged the client to explore the impact of these dynamics on actual work performance. Is the team’s relational harmony hindering or enhancing their ability to deliver results? Understanding this balance is crucial for leveraging team intelligence effectively.

If you lead a team or are part of one, these scenarios might resonate with your experiences. More importantly, how can we bridge this gap effectively?

Join us in our next OD Café where we will dig deeper into these questions and learn from each other to ensure that team intelligence translates into real, measurable performance. Share your thoughts and experiences with us. What strategies have you found effective in bridging the gap between team intelligence and performance?