Taking over a Dysfunctional Team: How to Deal with the Politics and Get the Job Done

You’ve just been hired or promoted to lead a team you quickly realize has some major problems. What should you do?

First figure out what brand of dysfunction your team has adopted. Organizational psychologist and consultant Liane Davey identifies five in her book, You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done.

  • Crisis Junkie Team—unclear priorities and lack of role clarity cause this team lurch along until a crisis forces it to unite.
  • Bobble Head Team—shared values and perspectives have this team maintaining harmony at the cost of innovation.

  • Spectator Team—members who have mentally checked out drag this team into apathy.
  • Bleeding Back Team—this team’s history of personal conflicts means they keep the peace in public, but they fight in private.
  • Royal Rumble Team—attacks and emotional outbursts cause this team to constantly swing back and forth and never move forward.

Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can take the following steps to spur a turnaround:

  1. Get rid of non-performers immediately, and don’t let slackers slide. If you don’t, team members who are pulling their weight will resent you more than they resent the loafer.
  2. Fill vacant roles with talented people with great attitudes. People often raise their performance to match the people around them.
  3. Set a vision and milestones for the team. Let the team know what to accomplish, with specific milestones, so you can track the progress.
  4. Check back in to tell the team where they are on meeting those milestones. Letting your team know how they’re doing will keep them motivated.
  5. Respect everyone’s time. Hold smaller meetings with only the right people attending. Start and end meetings on time, making it unacceptable to be late. And enforce those rules uniformly.
  6. Your open door policy isn’t enough. Schedule face time meetings with each team members at least once a month.

The key to turning around a dysfunctional engineering team is to act quickly and consistently.

Need more guidance? Contact us to help identify more specific issues with your team—and work out a strategy on how to move forward.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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