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Get Team Problems Out

Not every team issue can be solved with a standard pallet of techniques. However, nearly every consultant (internal or external) will have set of tools that they have ready just in case. The following is a set of techniques packaged as a model, or the very least in order of precedence. The techniques referenced in this article are often used as a group and are only deployed as a correctively after diagnosing the problem (root cause analysis).

  1. Define a basic SOP – teams should have a single standard operating procedure (SOP). Extreme Programming, Scrum, Waterfall and other frameworks can be leveraged. The important things is that while roles might require different tools and specific techniques the overarching framework and language that team members use to order and guide their work need to be the same.
  2. Identify the behaviors needed to get work done and agree to follow them. SOPs are a combination of behaviors. Normally, a single framework adopted straight out of the box (or book) rarely satisfies the needs of an entire organization or team which is why most organizations develop hybrid approaches. For example, many Agile teams combine Scrum, Kanban and components from Extreme Programming in order to stipulate an effective range of behaviors. Defining behaviors ensures everyone on the team understand the range of actions that are acceptable in the most unambiguous manner possible.Defining a Standard Operation Procedure and the behaviors in combination set expectations and establish norms of behavior for the team and interdependence between team members and between the team and the organization.
  3. Focus on attaining the team’s primary goal. This step requires that the team identify and/or define their primary goal. Teams that cannot establish a primary goal will act as a collection of individuals. In software organizations, groups that service multiple unrelated applications on unrelated platforms may not have enough in common to have a single goal. Without a goal, a team or group will not have a filter to identify work to say no to which leads to a further dilution of focus. Make sure everyone on a team knows their primary focus. If a primary focus cannot be established reorganize the team so that a common goal can be established.
  4.  Jettison members that won’t be part of the team. The effort to re-establish a team by defining a common goal, SOP and behaviors can be enormous. Troubled teams often have members that that will choose not check back into the team when they are rebooted. The best solution is to move individuals that won’t commit to the team out of the team. Voting a team member of the island is always the last resort. Consider gather perspectives from people close to the team but are not inside the boundary to ensure the problem behavior is not solvable.The combination of focus and getting rid of non-team players address the problem of un-teams. Un-teams are a loose confederation of individuals whose only real connection is their manager.
  5. Embrace positive conflict. All teams, even the best teams need to be able to identify the hard issues and deal with them openly.

The team is the central structure of work in 21st century. The complexity of work requires many hands, many capabilities, and many perspectives. When teams work well they can deliver spectacular results; however, sometimes they don’t work well for many reasons. Often times we only know that teams are troubled when we spend the time to look, listen and ask questions. Give that teams are important if we know there is a problem we need to find a solution for both the good of the team and for the good of the organization.