Organization Development Psychologist Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., reveals five useful tactics for moving your dysfunctional teams to effectiveness.
BY MICHAEL F. BROOM, Ph.D., Organization Development Psychologist
The CEO of a major healthcare organization is frustrated. She has unit, project, cross-functional, and process improvement teams — few work well. It bugs her that so many of her teams are dysfunctional. She’s got the dysfunctional team blues.
To move your dysfunctional teams to effectiveness, here are five useful tactics for improving team performance:
- Create team norms that support it being safe for team members to speak freely
A major contributor to ineffective teams is a team norm that tacitly says do not mention its ineffectiveness in team meetings. Speaking about such problems is perceived as too risky or futile.
Eliminate that perception by being interested in, curious about and appreciative of what members may have to say. Support team members to do the same.
Shift the team’s focus to problem-solving when finger-pointing and blaming, which exacerbate problems, occur.
Be consistent with both these tactics.
- Use two basic group facilitation skills
Focusing on too many issues at a time and allowing team members to interrupt each destroy team productivity.
- Minimize members interrupting each other. Interruptions too often escalate into conflicts about who will be heard first while neither party is listening.
- Help your teams stick to a single topic at a time. Discussion of one topic often generates discussion of other issues before not completing the first topic. This can snowball, allowing none of the topics to be concluded before the meeting must end. Conclude discussion of one topic before moving on to another as much as possible.
- Make consensus work to generate buy-in
Consensus too often becomes a futile exercise toward unanimity. Avoid that in three easy steps:
- When a reasonable percentage of the team is leaning toward a particular decision, take a poll to see who agrees and disagrees.
- Assure that those who disagree feel fully heard.
- Ask those who disagree if they will support the proposed decision, even though they do not fully agree with it.
I’m often asked, what if they refuse to support the idea? In my 40-plus years doing this work, that has never happened.
- Manage egos
The purpose of our egos is to maintain our sense of self-esteem and identity. When we perceive some threat to that maintenance, that purpose becomes driven by fear and anger, which can overwhelm more productive goals.
Ego-driven behavior in one person can trigger the same in others, creating significant team-wide dysfunction. The admonition to “leave egos at the door” is fruitless.
Counteract ego-driven behavior when it is disrupting movement toward team goals by:
- Allowing the person in question to share his/her point of view without interruption until the load of emotion has depleted.
- Check to see that they feel heard. Being heard is an enormous ego boost for many of us.
Note the connection with safe group norms, which are safe for egos and using basic facilitation skills.
- Establish feedback mechanisms
Officially monitor team health as often as you monitor the health of production and sales. Organizations and their leaders rarely officially monitor team health, despite their importance. Few leaders acknowledge or reward healthy and highly effective teams.
Many organizations provide a great deal of training, but team-leader skills training is typically missing. They may offer Bruce Tuckman’s “forming, storming, norming, and performing” concepts. But no instruction about how to navigate the stages of forming, storming, and norming to get to performing occurs.
This lack of feedback tacitly tells employees that teams are not that important, regardless of statements to the contrary.
These five tactics will help you move toward more productive and engaging teams. They will help you get rid of the dysfunctional team blues!
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Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., has been an organization development psychologist for 45 years. He consults with organizations of all types, including Google and Genentech, among others. He has taught at major universities, including Johns Hopkins and American. For more information, you can contact him at www.chumans.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.