If you work in a team or manage a group of people you’ll undoubtedly have experienced ups, downs, and disagreements. In many cases these are resolved in the normal course of work.
Issues like a team member going through a down period, a product roadmap being unclear, or a change in leadership can have a negative effect on team morale. But these kinds of problems, being products of circumstances, are very often relatively easily fixed. Or if not exactly “easily”, at least the underlying causes and possible solutions are not that hard to identify and implement.
“Team disharmony” however is when performance problems persist and grow within a team. Even though there may not be obvious, or easily diagnosable, causes.
Tell-Tale Signs of Team Disharmony
There are several tell-tale signs and if you’ve experienced this before (directly or not) they’re unmissable. You’ll repeatedly see things like:
- A consistent failure to hit deadlines and targets
- Work that is regularly “just not good enough”
- Frequent but unclear complaints in one-to-ones or HR reviews
- Ongoing frustration from product, project, and line managers
- A lack of engagement in team discussions
- Weak decision-making or frequent backtracking on decisions
- A “weird vibe” in team communications and interactions
There are more, and the purpose of this post is not to create an exhaustive list of dysfunctional behaviours in teams. But just like you can watch a team work and get a feeling of “I want to sit down with these guys and do some work”, you can equally find teams where your gut feeling is to keep as far away as possible.
This is what we mean by “team disharmony” and unless addressed and fixed, the consequences can be disastrous.
The “Do-Nothing” Approach
Because there often isn’t an obvious culprit — an individual or situation — many times we take a do-nothing approach while we deal with more “urgent” stuff. Things like an upcoming board meeting, a sales call, or more interviews.
We hope that things will naturally sort themselves out as they often do or that the management that’s in place is on top of things.
Truth be told, sometimes things do sort themselves out. Unfortunately in many situations, when disharmony and misalignment take root, the ultimate “solution” ends up being dramatic and harmful to the business. At best, the wrong things get built and work has to be redone. But in worse case scenarios you’ll see things like burnout and abrupt departures. This not only leaves a knowledge and leadership vacuum but can reduce your strategy and profitability to tatters.
How to Fix Team Disharmony Issues
The first step is to diagnose and understand what is causing disharmony in your team. There are various ways of doing this and one of the best approaches is to bring in an “outsider”. Often people opt for a specialist coach or consultant but depending on the size of your organisation it can be an HR professional or an experienced person from another part of the company.
Expertise aside, the value of an outside person is that when a team is going through a sustained period of low performance (and morale) there are usually trust issues at play. Whether they’re a cause or a symptom, it can often be easier for team members, and leaders, to be open with a person with whom there’s no baggage.
At BoS events we’ve discussed this topic before. In April 2019, Gareth Marlow delivered a talk on Cultivating Trust. This was so well-received that we invited him back for the US conference.
This September, Gareth is going to be delivering a unique two-part session on Identifying and Fixing Team Disharmony at BoS Conference Fall 2021. Gareth will listen and encourage participants to share their issues and help others in the group find support to overcome the tricky problems we all face leading our businesses in good times and bad.
In the first session the focus will be on approaches to uncovering issues and root causes. In the second session the focus will then be on fixing them. Gareth will discuss how to approach some of the common causes of misalignment and disharmony in your team and help you work through them.
(These sessions will be unrecorded to ensure an open and confidential discussion.)
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