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Is Your Team a Ticking Time Bomb? New Research Shows It Only Takes 1 or 2 Team Members to Undermine Results When They Fumble Tasks and Responsibilities

PROVO, UT – May 16, 2019 – A new study by VitalSmarts, a top 20 leadership training company, shows that the success of critical projects and programs requires the skill, energy and focus of every team member.

Specifically, it only takes 1 to 2 team members who make even small fumbles (miss deadlines, fail to make critical handoffs, work on the wrong priorities, etc.) to cut team performance by an average of 24 percent. As teams struggle to do more with less, it becomes increasingly likely that a team member or two will get overwhelmed and drop the ball. When even just a couple of people fumble, their slip ups significantly and negatively impact stress, innovation, execution and engagement for the rest of the team.

In the online survey of 1,160 people, VitalSmarts researchers asked participants how their team members faired when it comes to four common slipups. Results include:

  1. Overwhelmed and Confused: Teammates who lose track of things or miss deadlines because they fail to capture commitments and ideas.
    • 94 percent say at least 1 or 2 people on their team do this.
    • More than half (53 percent) say their manager does this.
  2. Deer in The Headlights: Teammates who are often surprised at the last minute by tasks, appointments or deadlines they’ve forgotten.
    • 91 percent say at least 1 or 2 people on their team do this.
    • Nearly half (48 percent) say their manager does this.
  3. Wheel Spinners: Teammates who appear busy, but still fail to get the important jobs done.
    • 85 percent say at least 1 or 2 people on their team do this.
    • 1 in 10 say at least half of their team does this.
    • 40 percent say their manager does this.
  4. Mixed Up and Misaligned: Teammates who spend too much time on the wrong priorities.
    • 91 percent say at least 1 or 2 people on their team do this.
    • 1 in 10 say at least half of the team does this.
    • 42 percent say their manager does this.

And even more alarming than the prevalence of these performance fumbles is the costs the team incurs when they happen.

On average, 9 out of 10 participants said that when their teammates made any of the four fumbles, their behavior cost the team. Specifically, they experienced losses to morale, team trust, productivity, quality, customer service, etc.

Surprisingly, team members are not the only ones to struggle. According to the study, 40 percent of managers are guilty of these same fumbles and, when they drop the ball, their slip ups result in a significant impact to the team’s ability to innovate and stay engaged.

VitalSmarts researchers say this study reveals that team success hinges on personal effectiveness skills—not subject-matter-expertise.

“We need to shift our thinking about what makes a valuable team member,” says David Maxfield, Vice President of Research at VitalSmarts. “We often hire or select people for a team because of their experience or technical skills. However, this research shows no amount of knowledge or skills can make up for the harm a handful of poor productivity practices will have on team morale and results.”

Maxfield’s colleague, Justin Hale, co-creator of Getting Things Done® Training further emphasizes the value of performance habits on team success.

“The ironic thing is that these fumbles are small, and yet they have a huge impact,” says Hale. “Most of us scoff at the idea that simple habits like writing things down can have a dramatic impact on team trust and execution, but they do! People have the best intentions but overestimate their ability to manage all the stuff coming at them and their team. In order for team members to thrive in a world of endless tasks and inputs, they have to have a few key habits.”

So, how do you move every member of your team from distracted and disorganized to smart and strategic—especially in a fast-paced, information-heavy environment? Maxfield and Hale point to a handful of team productivity skills that if adopted, will inoculate the team from the negative impacts of poor performance.

In a separate study done by VitalSmarts, they found that people who consistently performed these practices were significantly less likely to experience any of the four fumbles. They were also:

  • 55 times less likely to say they start projects that never get finished
  • 13 times less likely to say they are not present at home because they’re thinking about work
  • 18 times less likely to say they often feel overwhelmed

Maxfield and Hale share four skills for teams adapted from the Getting Things Done® (GTD®) Methodology created by David Allen and taught in the GTD® Training by VitalSmarts.

Four Productivity Skills for Teams:

  • End with Action: At the end of every meeting, identify a clear action and plan for follow-up. Never settle for vague actions such as “Let me work with this for a bit”. Instead, get down to the observable next action by clearly identifying who will do what by when and how you will follow-up. This one tip will not only ensure projects move forward seamlessly but will also reduce the need for more meetings.
  • Create a Capture Culture: One of the most important but widely overlooked productivity skills is capturing tasks, assignments, or ideas in a trusted tool (list, notepad, phone, email, etc.). When a team has a culture of capturing, not only does work get done, but you create trust and mutual purpose. When you capture an assignment following a discussion with your teammate, you communicate that you care about what they care about. And when your teammates see you capture the task, they can trust it will actually happen.
  • Do the Right Stuff: There are three modes of work and every member of the team needs to have dedicated time to do each of them. 1) Define work—process inboxes and new inputs. 2) Defined work—work from calendars or lists. 3) Surprises—work that shows up unplanned. Without boundaries around each mode, people will spend all their time attending to surprises—the latest and loudest tasks—instead of key priorities. To ensure critical tasks get done, respect each other’s time as they communicate what mode they are working in.
  • Make It Okay to Say “No”. A “yes” mentality will backfire the minute your yes men have too much on their plate. Avoid dropped balls and missed deadlines by creating a culture where teammates can renegotiate their tasks. When renegotiating, don’t frame it as a “no, I don’t have time for that.” Instead, communicate your desire to focus on the right priorities that will move the needle—in essence putting non-essential tasks at the bottom of the list. Managers can praise this behavior and really create a culture of hyper-focus.


Note to Editor: Maxfield and Hale are available for interview.

About VitalSmarts: Named a Top 20 Leadership Training Company, VitalSmarts is home to the award-winning Crucial Conversations®, Crucial Accountability®, Getting Things Done®, and Influencer Training® and New York Times bestselling books of the same titles. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than 2 million people worldwide.

Contact: Kristen Linsmeier at or 801-461-9780.