Changing the “Toxic” Team

As Katzenbach & Smith suggest in their classic book, The Wisdom of Teams*, a sustainable, high performance team needs to have a few recognisable characteristics:

  • Small number of people
  • Complementary Skills
  • Committed to a common purpose
  • Performance Goals
  • Collaborative Approach
  • Mutually Accountable

But quite often, a “team” created on paper has few, if any, of these attributes. A group brought together for bureaucratic or mechanistic reasons rather than to serve a clear and shared higher purpose is always going to struggle to perform.

Instead, these “teams” exist as a group of individuals who come together and may, or may not, transact well together. They gather into gladiatorial or passive-aggressive meetings, waving the banners of their own departments or profit centres, spoiling for a fight or just wanting to get away.

All groups need to work hard to co-create clarity, maintain a sense of purpose and balance support with challenge, but organisationally driven leadership teams have an even steeper journey ahead of them.

The obstacles to performance can seem immense:

  • Peers who are competitors for resources, recognition or influence
  • Individual loyalties embedded in the “home” team
  • Multiple mini-leaders without the flexibility to adapt to a peer environment
  • A cultural emphasis on justification and egocentric protection.

And the list could go on.

But it is only difficult, not impossible, to get it right!

Recently we have been spending time with Senior Leadership Teams, in the UK, Switzerland and further afield, where “team” behaviour could only be described as toxic until we started an intense programme of performance coaching.

Working with them as individuals, then as sub-groups and as a leadership team, we have been working hard to help them reverse the negative cultural norms that have become embedded and assumed as acceptable.

Our approach has been a blend of behavioural, cultural and procedural adjustment, helping them to re-engage with their responsibilities to the wider organisation.

In practical terms, this has meant:

  • Creating a compelling narrative about why the team exists, and to what purpose
  • Real-time performance feedback during and after meetings
  • New, agreed rituals for coming together, debating contentious issues and making agreements
  • A strategic, future-facing emphasis to meetings
  • Flexible, spontaneous participant-driven agendas
  • Increasing ad-hoc connection points and incentivising generosity and collaboration

The journey is a long one and it won’t be without its pitfalls and setbacks, but these teams are starting to function effectively, understanding their wider role-modelling responsibility, self-policing their behaviours and even occasionally enjoying being in each other’s company.

By | 2019-02-08T16:53:31+00:00 January 28th, 2019|Team Dynamics|0 Comments