10 Ways To Turnaround A Dysfunctional Team

Eric Jackson as a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine writes some very interesting management articles. In addition to writing for Forbes, Jackson is the Founder and Managing Member of Ironfire Capital LLC and he has completed his Ph.D. in the Management Department at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York, with a specialization in Strategic Management.

As many of us in government often take over or become involved with dysfunctional teams, Jackson’s latest article Ten Ways to Turnaround a Dysfunctional Team offers some great advice that I am passing along. Below is Jackson’s list without his additional explanation, which you can read at the link above.

  1. Get rid of non-performers immediately.
  2. Fill vacant roles with capable people with amazing attitudes, skills for that particular area, and zealous attention to detail and follow-through.
  3. Set the vision for the group and establish milestones to achieving the vision.
  4. Follow-up and remind the team how they’re doing against the milestones.
  5. Agree on meeting ‘rules of the road.
  6. Schedule regular face time with each of your team members at least monthly and ideally bi-weekly.
  7. Hold fewer team-wide meetings but smaller ones with the right people attending.
  8. Do annual performance reviews and discuss the team member’s developmental needs.
  9. Hold people accountable.
  10. Measure the team’s progress at least annually.

What do you think of this list based on your experience working with a team? Are these items doable in a government setting?


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Corey McCarren

The only one I would question is #1, just because some people have a worse learning curve than others but have the motivation and skills to get the job done as well as anyone else once they get there. There is a point that it gets beyond reason, but I don’t know if I’d say ‘immediately’. I would get rid of someone immediately if their problem was laziness and apathy.

Josh Nankivel

I agree with Corey on # 1 – primarily because ‘non-performers’ may be not performing due to a lack of leadership, not because they don’t want to do a good job. People get fed up with crappy management. Add to that the due process of firing someone, and that it will probably take a new manager at least 60 days to really know what the heck is going on in the first place.

Josh Nankivel

I also think the most important item is missing from this list entirely. Timely, quick feedback is critical to leading.

My approach is very similar to the feedback model at manager tools.

First, it’s important to give positive and corrective feedback on a consistent basis. People shouldn’t think the only time you give feedback is when something bad is about to go down.

I just ask if I can give them feedback, state the observed behavior (not attitude, etc) and the resulting impact on themselves, the team, or me. Usually I leave it at that. I usually don’t force people into telling me how they will correct their behavior on the spot. Usually they will end up coming to me later and want to let me know what they are doing to correct it.

Again, it’s very important to give positive feedback too, and I tend to catch my people doing things right wayyy more often than I have corrective feedback for them. That goes a long way towards building trust and making people see I’m not out to get them, I only want to help them grow professionally.

Deb Green

I’m sharing a lot of the same reservations with #1 – but I get the gist of it. You want to be able to not have negative energy/non-performing “hanger ons”. Good luck with swift action for removal of an employee.

Personally, I think there’s one big assumption here – that you are the supervisor for each of your team member. And that doesn’t always happen, especially in the project world.

One dimension I’d add to this list is leadership. The assumption that the team is dysfunctional because they need directions and waypoints to check against is but only one possible cause to the dysfunction problem. Do they feel connected to the project? Do they feel that what they do actually matters? Inspiration and excitement can do a lot for team dynamics. Get them excited and show that their input matters.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Very important from Deb: “I think there’s one big assumption here – that you are the supervisor for each of your team member. And that doesn’t always happen, especially in the project world.”

Sometimes the best you can do is coach and influence in a projectized environment (or one where the lines of authority are unclear).

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

The real challenge is when you have to work with the team you are given. How do you turn the team of “Moe, Larry, and Curly” into a high-performance project team?