In the past few days, the news has been filled again with threats of government shutdown and doomsday scenarios associated with the U.S. reaching the debt ceiling.  As many have reported, this is just the latest in a string of self-imposed crises.

The pattern is simple: As the government gets perilously close to the bottom of the money jar, important decisions need to be made not only about increasing debt, but also about reigning in spending.  But instead of doing the serious work of setting a long-term course for the country—and perhaps in an embarrassing admission that they already know they won’t be able to—the government imposes short term fixes guaranteed to put them back in exactly the same scenario in a matter of weeks or months. One fiscal cliff is solved by ensuring there will be another.

This is a typical crisis junkie team that I see in organizations all the time.  A lack of alignment about what’s important means that nothing gets done. Issues might get discussed and debated, but few decisions are made.  The lack of forward progress is tolerated until something (in this case the absence of money to pay U.S. debts) triggers a crisis that compels the team to act—but only under duress.  The result is shoddy decisions that sacrifice long-term success in service of a quick fix.

Does this sound familiar?  Are you trapped on a crisis junkie team? Does your team leader forgo the hard work of reaching agreement, pass on prioritization, and just wait for a crisis to force your team into action? Crisis Junkie teams shouldn’t really even be called “teams.” They have given up on doing anything cooperatively or collaboratively.

Republicans and Democrats spend so much time fighting on opposite teams that they miss the point that they are one team when it comes to governing the country.  Who are the donkeys and elephants on your team? Is it sales that can never see eye to eye with manufacturing? Do the finance people and line of business people behave like adversaries? In all of these examples, there is a severe case of missing the point. You can only thrive if you work together!

I write frequently about the importance of diversity on teams. Different ideologies, unique perspectives, and competing priorities are important for teams.  But those with different ideologies, perspectives, and priorities can’t just sit idly in opposition; they must be do the hard work of coming up with the right answer for the team, the organization, or the country.

You’ve probably already realized that it’s time for our politicians to grow up. Have you realized that the same is true of every crisis junkie team?

[Fun facts for today: Origins of the Democratic Donkey and Republican Elephant symbols.]

Further Reading

Thank Goodness for a Crisis

Are you Working with a Toxic Team?

The Surprising Source of Most Trust Issues