Tune Up for Teams in Pain

Lorrie RayIn today’s employee-lean workplace, teams are accomplishing a lot of work. Good teams share a collective sense of purpose and work productivity, while teams are plagued with conflict, poor decision making, and cranky interpersonal relationships that can interfere with good work quality. What is the difference between good teams and those in pain? How does a supervisor move a team from unproductive behaviors to effectiveness? When a supervisor has a nagging sense that something isn’t right, a quick team scan can be done. Effective teams tend to sacrifice for the good of the team, team members tend to share constructively what is working or not, and members tend to really listen and use persuasive language to accomplish team goals.

When diagnosing team performance, supervisors can help greatly by creating team norms. Team norms can include items such as a request for deep listening, critiquing content but never individuals, and welcoming all ideas. A norm-setting session involves the supervisor spending 30-60 minutes brainstorming with the team what norms the group would want to live by. Those norms are agreed to by the group. In some organizations, those norms are reviewed at the start of every meeting or evaluated at the end. Did the group adhere to those norms? Often a good conversation about the group rules is enough to redirect a floundering team.

If setting good norms isn’t enough, what else can be done to help teams correct? Bringing in an outside facilitator can be a safe and effective intervention. There are usually three phases to this: assessment, meeting, and follow-up. In the assessment phase, team members are asked questions about the functioning of the team. This can involve a short survey or one-on-one interviews. The team data is collected, and in the meeting stage, that information is shared with the group. Discussion in this phase focuses on how to resolve the issues. In these team meetings, members can agree to conflict resolution processes or what good group decision making would be. After the team meeting, the facilitator checks back with the team to determine what has worked and what hasn’t. Refinements and adjustments can be made in this follow-up phase of the team’s move to be more productive.

For this process to succeed, team members, and most especially the leader, must agree to fully participate in all three parts of the team intervention. If there is resistance to this process, other interventions might be necessary. Those can include supervisor coaching, setting strong performance goals, or other conflict resolution strategies.

Most employees want to work in functioning teams. Just like a car needs a tune up, so can a team benefit by regular care and attention. When you have a team that needs a tune up, give us a call. We have lots of success stories of helping teams move from pain to high performance.