New Manager’s-How to Fix a Dysfunctional Team

“I’ve been appointed a team manager at a software consulting company. I was really happy with my luck in securing the position, until I found the mountain of problems awaiting me.

Apparently, the previous manager swept a lot of employee and performance issues under the rug and it all didn’t come out until a week after his last day! According to the company’s database, projects were often submitted behind schedules, and some employees were rude and condescending to clients.

To make things worse, one of the other developers doesn’t respect me. Because of his decade long tenure in the company, he thinks the position should’ve been given to him.”

I got this email sometime in July, and after a bit of pondering I’ve decided to share it with you here.

Dysfunctional TeamThis situation is more common than you think. Companies often hire outsiders, especially if they feel no one in the team has the capacity to turn things around. Hopefully, not many of you are experiencing a similar situation. But if you are, here’s what I suggest: Here’s How to Fix a Dysfunctional Team.

  1. Assess the Situation

    Don’t just barge in demanding changes and implementing new rules without knowing what’s actually happening.

    On your first day, gather the whole team to introduce yourself and hold a team meeting. Let them know you’re aware of the issues, and ask for their own account of the incidents. Ask open ended questions, and don’t put blame on anyone even if information says otherwise. You want these people to open up and trust you, to tell you their side of the story.

    After everyone has shared their point of view, ask what they’re willing to do to solve the problem. Don’t offer solutions straight up. It has to come from them, otherwise they’ll feel railroaded.

  2. Look Back and Verify

    After you have sufficiently recognized your new team’s opinions and first-hand accounts of every issue surrounding them, now is the time to compare their stories with existing data.

    Data can be from customer complaints, performance scores, or peer feedback. Who is really at fault here? Are the problems stemming from a simple misunderstanding? Or is it from repetitive bad behavior?

  3. Combine Ideas

    Now that you truly know what’s going on, and not just what management has to say, it’s time to come up with a course-correction plan.

    Combine each team member’s suggestions with your ideas for improvement. This way, they’ll feel like you gave them the freedom to decide without you actually having to give up your authority on them. Instead of just another dictator, you’ll be seen as a collaborative manager that knows how to listen.

  4. Try to Understand the Difficult Ones

    Sometimes, collaboration and hearing both sides of the story isn’t enough to work with challenging employees. I suspect this is often the case for those resentful of new supervisors, as is the case of the tenured employee in my email.

    It’s tempting to write off these people as troublesome, difficult or insubordinate, when in reality; they might be only like that to YOU.

    If this is the case, it’s time to get on a one-on-one meeting with the employee. Perhaps, the employee was afraid to say what he thinks about you in front of everyone on the first team meeting (see step 1). So give him a chance to air whatever grievances and problems he has in private. Feelings of under-appreciation, lack of career advancement and even family problems might come up too, so prepare individualized plans accordingly.

You’re Still the Boss

Whether they like it or not, you are still the boss. You just have to act the part.

Set ground rules that everyone must follow, including you. For instance, if habitual tardiness is a problem in the team, you can set a rule that fines anyone who comes to work late. The money collected can be saved up for a team dinner, or the tardy employee can just treat everyone to coffee that morning.

Yes, this post talks about collaboration and understanding, but don’t let that get in the way of you leading the team. You still have to enforce rules, monitor goals, and discipline bad behavior.

Michelle Riklan is president of Riklan Resources and an instructor for The Leader’s Institute® in the Northeast region. She is based in Trenton, NJ but she also teaches in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other Northeast cities.