Monday, May 16, 2011

A Consulting Case Example

Periodically, we will post examples of projects that we have handled for clients to give you a sense of the scope and nature of our work. We’ve had projects that were similar to the following one, but this case is one of the more memorable.

“The Case of the Dysfunctional Team”

Imagine this scenario: A team in a public works department is deeply divided. Factionalism, not unity, is the norm. Information is seldom shared. Gossip and conflict are common. As for the level of trust, let’s just say that it has not yet hit bottom but it’s close.

Our mission? To stop the disputes and bring the team together.

What happened? Michael Wade met with the team for a no-nonsense discussion of communication techniques and trust. Once those had been considered, he shifted the team’s focus to an identification of the specific areas of conflict and agreement. A series of discussions explored the sort of ground rules that the team would need to follow if it were to escape these problems and foster a climate of trust.

Easy? Not at all. There was resistance at first. Some team members thought this entire effort was a waste of time. An important turning point, however, was when the skeptics saw this wasn’t a paper exercise and started to get on board. Eventually, some of the best ideas came from some of the most resistant employees.

As the team and Michael candidly discussed the ground rules, it became apparent that the interactions among the team members were a symptom of a larger problem: Interference from an outside source. The members delved into ways to confront that issue. The team began to come together. It was clear that while the team needed the ground rules, those alone would be inadequate to correct the situation. The discussion and venting process was crucial. The team members had not recognized the nature of the problem until frank opinions and observations were given; ones that had previously been withheld.

The result? The interference was stopped. The ground rules were adopted. Every team member signed off on the rules. Within weeks, morale and performance had significantly improved.

Some important observations: Trust is the foundation for an effective workplace. It is impossible to have trust when there are factions. Conflict is not a problem if it is handled properly and is surfaced constructively.  The values that build trust will also strengthen teams and facilitate communication. With the adoption of the ground rules, each team member had a way to surface future concerns. Each one could point to the posted ground rules and ask, “Is that consistent with our rules?”  Management gained credibility when it acted to stop the interference and everyone benefited with the higher level of trust. In the end, the dysfunctional team had become a real team.

Does your group have a similar problem? Call us at 800-788-7753 or email