How to spot problems within your ranks

So everything appears to be going on ok. Your team is working away on things. You are trying to be as hands off as possible. Your team members look really tight with each other. You’ve done a good job of creating an atmosphere where they all work harmoniously together. It’s all going like clockwork. Or is it?

Could there be problems rumbling beneath the surface that you are unaware off? Is there a major conflict that is a ticking bomb waiting to explode in your face?

Let me first be clear. It is very important to create cohesiveness in a team. To foster that team spirit. You know the stuff you’ve read much about, creating a well-oiled machine that works smoothly, breaking through barriers and getting things done. This is definitely something you as a manager should always strive to do. However, beware, there may be something else you may have created that is not so good. A Frankenstein monster of sorts if you will. Let me explain and I admit this can be quite controversial.

Normally teams evolve in the following order: at first everyone is new and they are just getting to know each other. The team is just getting formed. They are given their marching orders by the manager and told what tasks they are supposed to complete etc. etc.

The next stage, the team starts slowly getting more coordinated, the members start getting used to seeing each other every day, understand each other’s personality and the task at hands starts getting some traction. The team also starts forming formally or informally a kind of code. They know what makes a good team member and what makes a bad one. This is all good so far and can really increase productivity. But wait, there is more.

In this next step, the team is recognized as a unit, working very well together. The “code” is now more recognized by the members, expectations are clear, “doing it for the team” becomes an important slogan whether said aloud or not. A culture of how to do things has taken place. This is still good. Now team cohesiveness is at an advanced stage.

The next step is where the machine gets into the well-oiled-machine stage. This is something you should aspire to as a manager. The team is very well coordinated, they work well together, they are making things happen quickly and efficiently. The code and culture has become such that it is almost self-organizing. You don’t have much need, if at all, to intervene to enforce or remind people of expectations. The team culture has taken over and will drive discipline and productivity. You, as the leader, are more an inspiration. Don’t forget you are very much part of that team and now you don’t have to wave a stick or carrot all the time to get things done. This is still pretty good so far. So what problem could possibly arise?

How about this: what if you find that your team is extremely committed to the way things have gone so far that they cannot accept any change? What if you say the project at hand needs to be yanked or taken in a different direction? Will the team that has slaved away on it together for a while just accept that? What if they respond by stonewalling? What if they won’t listen to reason?

So you try to convince them by telling them there are other priorities. For instance, that money is being diverted to other initiatives that are better for the company and eventually for them as employees. However all you get is a team so together that now they collectively only see an attack on them as a unit. To make matters worse any individual member of the team who wants to acknowledge the new change is seen as a traitor by the other members so no one dares oppose that team mentality. The team now sets into a culture of secrecy, keeping things away from you, reporting only what the team agrees should be reported. You are more and more in the dark and, in extreme cases, they might even be conspiring against you.

So how do you deal with such mutiny?

Of course, not all situations are extreme. The best way to approach this is with empathy, information and education. You have to recognize what the team grievances are and provided concrete assurances. Ensure that company and project goals are aligned with their interests. And try to convince them of that.

If that is not possible, then you must identify the aggravators, the natural leaders within the team. First try to appeal to their common sense and logic and get them to come on board and bring the team on your side. If that does not work, then you must get rid of them, very fast. There is nothing worse than individuals who will disrupt your team and destroy your work to feed their personal agendas.

At the very extreme, you might have to disband the entire team. Let’s hope you will never have to face this kind of situation. Keep your ears to the ground, keep an eye on the developing culture within your team. Encourage individual thinking even as you encourage team spirit and cohesiveness. That is key to preventing groupthink.

Hope you liked this post. Let me know what you think. Send me a comment.

Thanks for reading.

Muneer

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