Is your team feeling stuck, stymied, or just a bit stale? Does it feel like you’re working at cross-purposes? Or have you pulled apart and started toiling away in isolation? It happens.
In the next two posts, I share some advice on how to reset your team in hopes of getting back on the right path.
While there are as many versions of team dysfunction as there are teams (actually, there are exponentially more than that because each team member experiences the same team’s dysfunction uniquely), in my experience, the dysfunctions fall into two categories. There are two different scenarios. First is the team that has lost the plot. It’s no longer clear why you exist as a team; you don’t know what’s important, what you’re trying to achieve, or who should do what first, second, and third. In that case, your reset needs to focus on realignment.
The other possibility is that the relationships among team members are the issue, and your team’s behavior is causing problems. You’re barely interacting, everyone feels like no one is listening, or there’s friction over even the most minor issues. In that case, your reset needs to focus on revitalization.
I’ll focus on realignment first for two reasons. Many dysfunctions that look like trust issues result from the misalignment of goals, expectations, and priorities and not from people being intentional jerks. Getting people working toward the same goals alleviates much of the friction. Also, even when I’m more worried about team dynamics, I start with realignment because it ties the necessary behavior change to the business rationale (e.g., changing external environment, new strategy) rather than pointing fingers at bad behavior. That increases the people’s receptivity to change.
How to Get Your Team Aligned
Here are a few options for how you can realign your team. You might want to participate in a dedicated session or spread the exercises over several meetings. Alternatively, you might only need one or two of these tactics to get something important to click into place. Pick a place that feels relevant and dig in.
Reset your team’s mandate
It’s possible that you’re working toward an out-of-date purpose, and it’s time to reflect on the value your team needs to add. Here are some possibilities and prompts to consider.
Shifting External Environment
What is changing in the outside work that requires us to evolve—or transform? What macro trends are emerging in society, the economy, industry, or technology that require your attention? How do those changes impact what your organization depends on you to deliver? For example, if you lead the facilities team, how does hybrid work affect your real estate footprint and office design? How will rising interest rates and declining demand for commercial real estate net out? And what about climate changes—do you have an assessment of how your facilities will fare with hotter temperatures and increased storm severity? What about environmental standards? How will new corporate sustainability regulations affect what you measure? Sheesh—you’ve got a LOT to keep up with if you’re in facilities!!!
Shifting Corporate Strategy
As you can see in the external context section, many things are changing outside your organization that you need to consider. Of course, things changing inside may also require adjustments to your team’s mandate.
Does your company have a new strategy, and if so, how can your team change tack to stay on course? It could be a new vision, a new product line, a new market, or new goals (or all of the above) that require you to change your mandate. For example, if you’re a marketing team and part of a grocery chain that has gone from selling branded products to adding your own white-labeled goods, you need to rethink your purpose as a team. If you’re in procurement and your organization is starting a global expansion, buckle up.
Reset Your Team’s Goals
If your mandate has changed because of changes in the world inside or outside your organization, you will definitely need to revisit your goals. Even without those major changes, you might want to take a fresh look at your goals. These are valid reasons to consider moving the goalposts.
Respond to Internal Changes
Consider whether your existing goals are still pointing you in the right direction and whether they are appropriately challenging. How do you need to shift your focus in light of a new strategy? Are there goals that are more and less important now? Do you need an entirely new goal to reflect a new role your team is expected to play?
Maybe the goal definition is fine, but it’s the target that needs to be revised. What have you accomplished in the past year, and how does that impact what’s left to do? If you’ve been outperforming consistently, do you need more stretch? If you’ve fallen short, do you need to lower your goals or risk demoralizing everyone?
Respond to External Changes
External factors impact your goals, too. If you work in the auto parts industry, how does a strike by the North American auto workers affect what’s possible? Myriad factors emerge in the environment that are significant headwinds that might make it appropriate to temper your expectations. Of course, there are environmental tailwinds as well. If you’re a team of content marketers, coders, or paralegals, how will LLMs like ChatGPT allow you to improve your productivity? Does it make sense to up your targets?
Some goal resets are about heading in a new direction, some about how far you need to go, and others are less about changing the destination and more about clarifying it. Is there an opportunity to make your goals more specific and less ambiguous? You might enhance alignment on your team by tightening up the definitions or targeting the metrics so that everyone can see whether you’re progressing.
Reset Your Strategies and Tactics
You might need new strategies if the competitive environment has changed or your customers are shifting. Changes to your mandate or goals will necessitate new strategies and tactics, but even if those things haven’t changed, you might be due for a rethink. Looking for new and better ways to accomplish your goals is something you should do routinely. For example, if you’re in a law firm, how does the introduction of significant new legislation create an opportunity for competitive advantage?
The other possibility is that your tactics need sprucing up. Stay with the law firm example; the strategy of focusing on the new legislation might still be valid, but is your approach yielding as much as you’d like? Maybe you need to change your target organizations, punch up your marketing messages, or standardize tools for delivering the work. You’re looking for tactics to tweak, abandon, or double down on.
Finally, you might not need to change your current strategies or tactics, but it might be worth considering a few contingencies that could emerge. Anticipating potential scenarios and getting prepared might be enough of a shot in the arm to revitalize your team. What did you assume in developing your existing plan? If you swap out those assumptions for other possibilities, how would that necessitate a change to your strategy or tactics? What will you monitor to know if Plan A needs to switch to Plan B?
Reset your Roles
One last opportunity to realign your team comes from asking whether you are optimizing the energy and talents of the individuals on your team. Sometimes, a genuine mismatch exists between someone’s skills and talents and their role. Other times, it’s been too long of doing the same thing, and they need a new challenge to reinvigorate them.
Consider a shuffle where people change roles. Certainly, if there’s a skills mismatch, you’ll want to find everyone a role where they’re positioned to succeed. But there are other rationales for changing positions as well. You might want to use it to cross-skill people, expose more people to other parts of your operations, or set up a succession possibility. Or maybe you just want to give someone a new challenge.
Even within existing roles, you might want to tidy up people’s accountabilities. Can you make the accountabilities associated with a role more compelling or straightforward? Do you have situations where shared accountability is eroding ownership, causing duplication of effort, or resulting in dropped balls? Cleaning up who is doing what, with whom, and by when might just be a breath of fresh air that gets everyone re-engaged.
Even the most talented, dedicated, hardworking team can stall occasionally. The first thing to do is question whether a reset and realignment are in order. If so, take a fresh look at what your organization, colleagues, and customers need from you and how your goals, strategies, tactics, roles, and accountabilities can be better aligned with delivering it. You’ll be surprised at how many team dynamic issues fade away in light of better alignment.