When we need to get a project done for our organization, we first need to choose whether we want it done by an individual or a team. For more on that decision watch my informational video, Assignment: Individual or Team . Once that is determined you put the team together and send them off on task. If all goes well, they come back with the project done, on time and under budget. Unfortunately, there will be times when the team doesn’t work well together. The sooner we can identify the problem, the sooner we can get it solved and get the project back on track. Here we discuss some of the key dysfunctions and some remedies you can try.
1. Decreased Participation: One of the earliest signs of dysfunction on the team is when members begin to decrease their participation. Quite often the cause of this is that certain team members feel that they can’t get their ideas out, or when they do, the ideas are never accepted by the de facto leadership. Over time the marginalized members become resigned to their fate and stop offering their ideas altogether. When the input of your team is limited to a few members, your ideas are narrowed and you may lose the opportunity to find the most creative solution.
Remedy: The team needs to enact guidelines that encourage and value participation from all parties. When you (as the leader) are directly involved in a meeting, look for members who by their nature are limiting the input of others and privately encourage them to be more open. During the meeting you can boost the level of input by being open and welcoming different ideas to the table.
2. Increased Time Required: Sometimes during a team project you might notice that they are not moving forward at the same pace as before and that lethargy has set in. Often this is because the group has become bogged down in the details of the solution or has started to over value irrelevant material. Perhaps some members of the team cannot get past the minutiae and are frustrating other members of the team.
Remedy: Work with the team to prioritize their time and work more effectively. Help them to distinguish the more important tasks and move those forward before they get too involved in the details. Explain that they might be working on details that will eventually not matter or might become clearer once the larger decisions are made.
3. Decreased Information Flow: Another symptom of a dysfunctional team has to do with the flow of information between the team members and with other groups. This can be a result of infighting, personal agendas or disinterest. Whatever the cause, you will need to get involved to adjudicate any personal situations and get the communication flowing properly.
Remedy: It is important to create and enforce a regular system of project updates. This might include written reports, emails or a collaborative site. You may also need to bring the parties together for a live meeting to get them back up to speed and refocused.
4. Lower Personal Satisfaction: One of the most dangerous indicators of a poorly performing team is that members have lost interest in the project and its goals. This can be evidenced by a lack of focus, and unwillingness to attend meetings or a desire to get off the team. Eventually they will come to you and ask to be released or worse, just quit performing and put their energies elsewhere.
Remedy: When the team gets to this point you will need to use all your leadership skills. Work with the key players to determine what is happening to the team and the project. Get opinions from a variety of sources so that you aren’t getting overly influenced by someone who is part of the problem. Bring the team back together to reestablish the ground rules and the goals of the projects. Reestablish the importance of the assignment and the necessity for full participation. Finally, get agreement on the goals, the agenda and the timetable. Then set the team back on task.
We can hope that our project teams can take an assignment and get it done without intervention but it is more likely that they will run into trouble. As the leader, you need to know when and how to intervene.