Search My Site

At one point in my career I had a CEO tell me after I started my new job that I had “the most dysfunctional team he had ever seen.” I thought, “what did I get myself into?” Most managers will, at some point in their career, have to deal with dysfunction on a team at work. You may be part of a dysfunctioning management team, or you may inherit a team that was not set up for success. Even with a degree in Business and a Masters in Technology Management I, like most business professionals, was never formally trained to deal with dysfunctioning teams. So what do you do when confronted with a team that doesn’t trust, doesn’t commit and simply doesn’t work because of the dysfunction?

First you have to identify and acknowledge there is a problem or you cannot fix it. As the manager YOU MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for the problem. I don’t care if you inherited the mess, or if you think in your heart of hearts that someone else is to blame. Your job as the manager is to be accountable for your team. Suck it up, take responsibility and let everyone know from top to bottom that you see there is a problem and you are going to fix it. You do not need to say that you caused the problem to take responsibility for it, you simply need to acknowledge it is now your job to fix it, regardless of how it got this way. This may take some introspection, it did for me, because at the end of the day, it’s your team and you either fix it or you are not the right leader for the team.

Identify the problems that are causing the biggest issues for the company, they may not be the most dramatic so you will have to learn to filter out the drama from the effect. What I mean by this is you may have two people on your team that openly fight and refuse to work together which causes drama for everyone, but that may not be the most impactful problem. The most impactful problem may be that your customer support team is woefully understaffed or just not operationally efficient and if you fix that problem it would minimize and possibly eliminate the drama from the team members who aren’t getting along. Try to focus on the issues and solutions and then identify who on the team is available to help correct the problem.

Communicate to the team that drama is not needed or appreciated, and remember that includes you as the manager. This can be a challenge as drama is addictive and people do not realize they are feeding into it. Keep the door open for constructive criticism, but close it on talking behind people’s backs. Recruit your HR Manager for help with open communications and let your team know that HR is there for them if they need an unbiased manager to talk to. Sometimes the manager is the problem and we have to acknowledge that we are not infallible.

The next step is to rebuild the team trust, first in you as their manager. Back up your words with actions by getting them the help they need. Roll up your sleeves and dig into their biggest challenges. You won’t know how to help them if you don’t dig into the problems. Give your team meaningful work and provide them with the tools and resources they need to accomplish their tasks. Praise the team in a group setting, and be sure that everyone knows who contributed and how they contributed. Often times introverts are not recognized and other team members may assume they did not contribute. Everyone should be adding value and that value can be appreciated. Build teams of people with complimentary not competitive skills. If you have two people that are great at client communications and no one good at understanding the technology you will have a hole in the team. Partner introverts with extroverts and make the extrovert the champion for the introvert. Find out what people like to do and re-assign them to tasks they want to do. If there is a pile of work that no one wants to do, find a way to automate that job as best as possible, or ask if you can bring in an intern or two to help with that work load.

Identify a common enemy such as the real competition to your business and then as a team offer solutions on how you can work together to beat the external competition. Ultimately there may be some people, no matter how hard you try as a manager, that will not be the right fit for your team and they will have to pursue a different path. As a manager you need to know how this will impact the morale of the team. In many cases redeploying or releasing certain people will improve morale and should be done sooner rather than later. If you are faced with having to make changes on the team it will help everyone in the long run when they are treated with respect and dignity. It is a difficult task and when your team sees that you treat everyone with respect they will in turn respect you more.

Finally, celebrate with your new team often, reminding them how far they have come and appreciate them for their efforts. You do not need to have expensive parties, a simple team email announcement with a shout out to those who went above and beyond the call of duty is often enough. Do it frequently and your team will start to run smoother, making your job a little easier.