I’ve spoken to many CEOs and team leader who are baffled by the troublesome dynamics of their team. Sometimes there’s an underlying gurgle of discontent; sometimes there is outright conflict.
Here are some common symptoms and causes.
Symptoms: Teams and/ or individuals keep focused on their respective responsibilities, guarding their territory vigorously.
Cause: People feel threatened, usually due to some recent change. This could be anything from a new boss, to a new business line, to a merger or re-structure. When these events occur, our place in the order of things is challenged, and we cling to what we know and carve out our territory to defend against further disruption.
2. Lumpy carpets
Symptoms: Big issues and incidents occur, such as a staff member being dismissed, or a significant disagreement, and the issue is left unresolved. There are lingering feelings of hurt, resentment, and confusion. These are all felt in the meeting room and if someone tries to raise a concern about it, the subject matter is quickly squashed. The more this happens, the lumpier the carpet gets as more and more issues are swept under it.
Cause: Leadership has defaulted to authority and has begun wielding power without effective consultation or care. This happens when we as leaders may feel out of our depth or threatened in some way. Leaning on positional authority to steer a team is a red light warning sign of a ship steering towards the iceberg of dysfunction.
Symptoms: Team members take little swipes at each other, often publicly. Chipping can also take the form of one-upmanship as each member reaches to justify their position and function.
Cause: Usually these stem from unresolved conflict that has festered into dislike and suspicion of one another. We may feel insecure in our relationships at work and disconnected from our sense of purpose.
4. Work to rule
Symptoms: We show up and do the basics, taking our maximum breaks and working only minimum required hours. Related to the work to rule symptom are presenteeeism, where we are at work physically but may or may not be fulfilling basic role requirements, and then absenteeism, where we absent ourselves from the workplace altogether through sanctioned or even unsanctioned avenues.
Cause: Our needs in the workplace for a sense of achievement, recognition, and inclusion are compromised. We no longer feel safe or fulfilled. At this point, we may have actively started looking for work elsewhere, or determined to look after our own interests regardless of our employer’s needs or requirements.
As dire as it may feel, there are always opportunities to steer the ship back on a more positive course. As leaders, we have some significant work to do in our core leadership responsibilities:
1. Focus: We need to get the team clear on purpose, their individual roles, and their place in the organisation.
2. Feel: As leaders, we need to help our colleagues feel the full range of feel-good emotions and brain chemicals through a concerted focus on achievement, making progress visible, recognition, reward, and belonging.
3. Framework: We need to work with our team to determine ground rules, decision-making protocols, process for effective disagreements handling, and use descriptive feedback to let people know when they are and are not performing to expectations.
It’s not always fun, easy, or straightforward. However, if we remember People First and Task Second, we have a better chance of keeping our crew together no matter how choppy the waters.