Managing a Team That’s in Constant Turmoil? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I was recently hired into a manufacturing company in the engineering department. I am leading two different teams. One of the teams is running smoothly, and the other one is a disaster.

team is in constant turmoil— to the degree that some members of team are not
even speaking to each other. The work output isn’t a complete mess yet, but we
seem to be headed that way. I am leading both teams in the same way, so I can’t
identify what I should be doing differently. What to do?

A Tale of
Two Teams


Dear A Tale of Two Teams,

Wow. The good news is that you aren’t
responsible for creating the mess. The bad news is that once a team has gotten
off on the wrong foot, it can be really hard to put things right. But there are
some things you can do—and everything you learn from this experience will serve
you well.

It sounds as if you are on your own when it
comes to becoming a better team leader. This is not unusual. Our research

  • Over
    half of all work is done on teams, and most of us are on five or six teams at
    any given time. It is how the really complicated work gets done.
  • Most
    teams are suffering—only 27 percent of people would say that their teams are
    high performing.
  • Just
    1 in 4 people think they have been well trained by their organization to lead

The top obstacles to teams working well are
familiar to all of us. Teams fall apart because of:

  • Unclear
    purpose of team and/or unclear goals
  • Murky
    roles and decision rights
  • Lack
    of accountability (some people pull their weight and others don’t), which leads
    to resentment.
  • Lack
    of candor and openness, which leads to the death of constructive conflict
  • Poor
    tracking and no celebration of wins and progress

All of these complications undermine trust and
collaboration. Not surprisingly, lack of
is the ultimate undermining factor. If you look carefully at your
team that is working, you will probably find that its members have somehow
created clarity around the team’s purpose, goals, and behavioral norms, and that
they know how to solve problems and resolve disagreements. Those areas might be
a good place to start with your disaster team. Call out that they are in
crisis, and request that you all go back to the beginning and start over to get
clarity on all of the above dimensions

It might be helpful for you to know about the study that Google did on teams that work well. They found these to be the most important elements for high performing teams:

  • Psychological
    members feel safe to fully express themselves, share ideas, and take risks free
    of the fear of humiliation, punishment, or judgment.
  • Dependability: Team members can depend on each
    other to do what they say they will do, mean what they say, and have each
    other’s backs.
  • Structure
    and clarity:
    on the team is crystal clear about the overarching objectives of the team and
    their own individual goals and tasks for the team.
  • Meaning: Each person must find their own
    emotional connection to the work or the outcomes of the work. It will vary for
    each individual.
  • Impact: Each individual, and the team as a
    whole, must have a clear line of sight between their own work, the work of the
    team, and the big picture strategic goals of the organization.

As the team
leader, you can help create or increase psychological safety by role modeling
certain behaviors—the behaviors you seek in your team members.

  • Pay
    close attention to each individual, use active listening techniques, don’t
    interrupt, and acknowledge all contributions.
  • Be
    fully present and engaged while with the team.
  • Be
    accessible, share information about yourself, and encourage others to do the
  • Include
    all team members in decision making and explain your final decisions in detail
    so that everyone understands your thinking.
  • Show
    that you will not tolerate bad behavior by stepping in when you see it.

It all
starts with you. Creating psychological safety is a tall order, so I would
recommend starting with the behaviors that make sense to you and come easily.
Then drive for clarity, clarity, clarity. My experience tells me it’s very
possible you have one person on the team who benefits from creating chaos and
keeping things muddy. You know the adage: one bad apple spoils the barrel. If
this is true, it will be revealed as you drive for clarity and you can remove
that person from the team. If it isn’t true, clarity will reduce the friction
and the team will balance out.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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