99% of the time team problems can be attributed to one of two root causes: Lack of leadership or a bad apple in the bunch.

I’ve addressed bad apples in the past. Document the problem, inform the malcontent that they are harming the organization, have zero tolerance for negativity and nastiness and finally, if necessary, fire them. If you can’t do that because of union rules, transfer them to Siberia where they can do no harm. If your organization is big enough to have a protection of the bad apple provision, it also has a Siberia.

The bigger and more difficult problem is a lack of quality management. No team can function well without a leader. In fact, the better the members, the worse that group will function under poor leadership. Strong, capable, intelligent people need direction or they pull against each other.

If you’ve got a team issue, I’ll bet it can be traced to the lack of management. This is usually “hands off” management. You’ll hear things like, “we’re all adults and I like to let people make their own decisions.” or “I don’t want to micro manage.” They are really saying that they don’t like to deal with people issues. (Don’t worry, it’s common and nobody DOES like to deal with people issues)

Sometimes, when a team becomes dysfunctional, it’s necessary to micro manage. It might be necessary to manage every aspect of every function for a while. First, this introduces a return to expectations. If management is watching everything and requiring constant reporting, talent soon gets the idea of exactly what is expected. The lack of truly understanding expectations is where the trouble likely began. Micro managing will get all functions back on track. This doesn’t have to be a forever thing. 6 months is enough to get the message across.

Next, zero tolerance. There can be no room for negativity. Sure, all suggestions gladly accepted, but no negativity.

Next, when people bring their problems with others to management. Right then and there, no warning, call the problematic people together in one room or conference call and deal with it. Don’t wait a day or an hour. Deal with it right on the spot. The backbiting will fall off in a hurry if your little “helpers” learn quickly that their reporting of co-workers comes to light immediately.

Summary to correct a team issue:

1. Remove Offenders if Possible (Terminate or Siberia)
2. Micro Manage for 6 months
3. Zero Tolerance for Negativity
4. Bring ALL Backbiting to Light IMMEDIATELY.

If management can’t do these things, you seriously need new management. Better keep that possibility on the table or you could see whole departments ruined.

Only after these corrections can you begin to build cohesion through pride in membership. Too often management will start by trying to bond a dysfunctional team. That won’t work.

Fix the problems first. Then play bonding games if you must.

I am going to recommend a book. [Below] It’s extremely simplistic but important. Please, if you have team issues, read it. It won’t take more than an evening. Buy copies for all your managers and ask them to write a one “thought” report.

Good luck!

Chris Reich