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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Jenkins

Turning around a dysfunctional team

A good leader knows their strength comes from their team. As you would expect, a high performance team is every manager’s dream, however like most things in life, creating an effective team is not as easy as it seems. Bringing together a group of smart, creative and driven people doesn’t mean they’ll instantly connect and work in sync.

Complexity increases even more when several teams need to be aligned and work together towards a common goal.

But Research has found that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional and they usually fail on at least three of five main targets: meeting a planned budget, staying on schedule, adhering to specifications, meeting customer expectations and maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals.

The most common dysfunctions that hinder a business’s development are:

Absence of trust: team members don’t feel safe about their future which prevents building trust within the team

Fear of conflict: in order to preserve artificial harmony, team members avoid productive conflict

Lack of commitment: a lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to

Avoiding accountability: the desire to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents people from holding each other accountable

Personal agendas: the pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success

Nevertheless, despite these grim statistics, business leaders still strive to find that magic formula to create a high performance team that can exceed targets and help the company get ahead of the competition.

Why? Because a strong team boosts productivity, increases efficiency, encourages innovation, attracts talent, improves services and strengthens employee engagement.

No magic formula

The truth is, there is no magic formula. Successful leaders assume responsibility for their team’s mission. They invest time and energy in uncovering the best strategy that leverages the team’s full potential.

The causes behind dysfunctions are both identifiable and curable. Thankfully, with today’s technology business leaders can surface the dysfunctions’ roots and really learn the story of their organisation and team in a matter of hours. Smart solutions convert complex issues into simple understanding and help leaders address the obstacles to effective teamwork.

With clear insight and accurate up-to-date information, leaders can now spur growth, cut out the guesswork and make efficient decisions based on facts and not assumptions.

Insight into action

Understanding the root of the problem is a massive step towards implementing a solution, however turning a dysfunctional team around may not be easy and you need a clear action plan.

Start with communicating honestly about the issue. People need transparency in order to understand what challenges they need to tackle and what adjustments need to be made. It might be difficult to face some hard truths but moving quickly on from the issues doesn’t make them go away.

Next, you need to share team goals, how to reach them and why it’s important for everyone’s wellbeing. A compelling vision will inspire employees to put effort into addressing the issues and improving their performance.

Assess organisational processes, operating systems and procedures. In many cases, the company’s infrastructure and internal structures of command are a big part of the problem and create significant obstacles to high performance teamwork.

Create a tactical action plan for each project. All employees should have a list of things they need to do in order to demonstrate their commitment to making the necessary changes and achieving targets.

Focus on the team as a living, breathing ecosystem. Most executives focus and assess individual performance which doesn’t necessarily improve teamwork. Teams need to be assessed and coached as a whole. Only then will individuals develop the right synergies and act as a successful unit, aligned behind shared vision and goals.

Follow up, execute on a strategy and hold people accountable. To ensure the team stays on track by making the necessary adjustments as projects progress, implement a follow-up process that reassess where the team stands and what obstacles need to be removed.

Turning around a dysfunctional team is an intensive process that requires discipline and commitment from top to bottom. There is no bulletproof formula to make a team work like clockwork, but with these pointers you should see positive progress in a short period of time.

Foot note - article originally written for Management Issues and published in June 2017.

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