When Teams Go Wrong – How to Turn Around a Failing Team

tackling team problems

We’ve all been there. The team meeting where nothing is achieved. The group discussion where it feels like you can cut the air with a knife. The team that is actually a team in name only, where it’s everyone for themselves and only the most vocal, political or best-connected survives.

So how can you get a broken team back on track, and make sure everyone pulls together?

It is well researched and documented that healthy, functioning teams perform well, make good decisions and are more productive than their dysfunctional counterparts.

So, what are signs that your team needs help? What are the secrets to fixing broken teams? And what can you do to support healthy team development?

Know your dysfunction

Broadly speaking, broken teams will fall into one of three categories. If you are part of, leading or working with a dysfunctional team, it helps first to work out which of these categories mirrors most closely what you are experiencing.

1. The Battle Ground Team

This is the team where politics loom large, cliques form and alliances are made and dropped with alarming frequency. It’s where direct and healthy debate is replaced by passive aggression and private sniping.

Often leadership in this team is based on power-play and control with a divide and conquer, survival of the fittest culture.

2. The United Front Team

This is the team where peace and harmony are king. So committed are the members to presenting a unified face that healthy debate and growth is almost entirely off the agenda. Here there are no dissenting voices, no challenges and very limited opportunities for development.

In this stilted culture, innovation and creation is nowhere to be seen, resulting in stagnant performance and an inability to make important decisions around risk.

3. The Solo Spot Team

This team is really a non-team. It is characterised by talented people working in silos, prioritising individual goals and eschewing the benefits of collaboration and the value of a multi-layered approach.

This is the linear ‘team’ – team members report directly to a leader and preciously guard information that could be relevant to other parts of the business.

If you recognise your team in these descriptions, read on.

Introducing: The Flourishing Team

It is important to start from the position that mindset drives behaviours. Behaviours shape the climate, and climate drives results. It all starts with mindset.

In a team setting focus should be placed on practising five values to help move a misfiring team to one that is cooking on gas. These are as follows:

1. Value Focus: What is a team for?

To get results that are not possible for individuals to attain alone. In order to start down that path, everyone needs to know where they are heading.

It’s not enough for team goals to be something other people know about. Our team goals should represent our shared purpose and vision.

If you are a leader, set aside time to share and discuss goals with the whole team. Invite feedback and challenge and ask lots of questions about the team’s collective understanding of the goals and the relative business priorities.

If you are a team member – ask what the team’s goals are. It’s not good enough to expect this to be spoon fed to you.

Consider whether you buy into the goals and if not, what you would have to do in order to buy into the goals. Is there something you don’t yet understand?

2. Value Difference

We are programmed to debate and challenge in order to get better. It’s how we have evolved as a species. It’s okay to dissent, to think differently and to challenge the status quo.

Provided team members work to some basic ground rules, healthy and respectful debate and discussion can greatly enhance a team’s performance. Maybe those goals could be looked at again…?

As a leader, always make space for respectful challenge. Work with a coach on your sensitive areas and blind-spots and learn to recognise when you are in danger of choosing not to hear difficult, but valuable, messages.

Engage your team in setting clear ground-rules. How should challenge be communicated? When is it not appropriate?

As a team member, get involved in the challenge process. Ask how you can best help your leaders and colleagues to make rigorous and considered decisions.

If you have been given a voice – use it, but don’t abuse it. Remember the overall aim is the betterment of the team as a whole.

3. Value Reflection

Healthy teams develop a well-functioning feedback loop in which all opinions are valid, all options considered and curiosity rules.

In the flourishing team, members are excited by the prospect of sharing their thoughts and hearing from others. They are given time and space to reflect and to question: what could be better, what is stopping us getting to where we want to be?

As a leader, change things up. Take time out from the routine of weekly meetings to find another approach.

Why not have a breakfast meeting, or a lunchtime gallery visit – followed by a brainstorming session. Give your people space to consider options and, if possible, come up with some that are even better.

As a team member, commit to giving all sorts of areas of the business some thought. Even if the agreed goal right now doesn’t directly involve you, play your part in supporting the business.

4. Value Courage

In mature and healthy, flourishing teams, trust among members is highly valued.

In these teams, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to learn and develop. It’s okay to give and to receive constructive feedback. Critique is valued and it’s what will give us the edge. The team develops a collective, ‘bring it on’ mindset and seem almost to thrive on knowing on what they can improve upon.

As a leader, be prepared to admit when you have got something wrong. Create a culture of honesty and development within the team. Try not to save critical feedback for private 1:1s. All feedback can be valuable and everyone may benefit from hearing it.

If you are not afraid of receiving critique, your reports will follow suit. Get the balance right here, so that you maintain the respect of the team, whilst still showing you are human.

As a team member, show you are willing to hear what others think. Invite feedback Be excited by ideas for making things better and work on recognising when you start to feel defensive.

5. Add Value

Show up, don’t check out, even when the going is tough.

Members of the flourishing team are constantly asking themselves, ‘What can I personally do to make a difference? How can I personally enhance the performance of my team?’

Is there a quiet team member with a great idea? Support them as they speak out. Is someone struggling to meet a deadline on a key piece of work that isn’t your area (but is a big part of the team’s goal)? Is someone offering valuable constructive feedback about your behaviour or performance? Drink it all in and learn from it.

As a leader, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. When the stakes are high and the pressure is on, be present.

Find ways to make the team’s life easier – your job is to make it possible for them to do their job. If that means getting the coffees in, do it.

As a team member, don’t think someone else will do it. If you are not sure where you can add value, ask. Who knows, you might develop a whole new set of skills into the bargain.

Functioning teams perform better and are ultimately worth more to your business than the sum of the individual parts A strong team performance impacts business results and can be the difference between you missing and achieving your goals.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Beth Hood at Verosa. Beth is a specialist in dealing with dysfunctional teams – how to spot the signs, providing tips on how to rectify them.

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