Workplace doctor: How to repair a fragmented team

In a company where client perceptions are vital, having a unified approach is key

epa06336249 Customers drink beverages as a cat sits on their table at the Cat Cafe in downtown Zagreb, Croatia, 17 November 2017. Some coffee shops and pubs in the Croatian capital are specializing lately in an enriched offer for their clients, apart from serving drinks: the possibility that their guests to enjoy their visit in the company of animals. In the 'Cat Cafe', customers can have coffee and pet cats at the same time, watch them sleep or play, give them treats or let them nap in their lap.  EPA/ANTONIO BAT
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I am the team leader of a client-facing operation for a service provider.  I have just taken on the role but I have become aware that my team appears fragmented and some relationships are brittle to say the least.  I think this is affecting the team’s overall performance and I want us to improve.  How do I tackle the underlying issues?

DP, Dubai

In client-facing roles within the service sector, fragmented teams with brittle relationships as you have described can have a direct impact on the quality of service provided - so your desire to improve the dynamics within your team is exactly what is needed.

It is not clear whether you were in the team before and got promoted to team leader, or whether you are completely new to the team. Either way, with you taking on this role, the dynamics of the team will have changed and the team will need to go through a development period and process to become fully productive.

Fragmented teams with difficult relational dynamics are often associated with a lack of unifying purpose, where the team mission and goals, as well as individual roles and responsibilities are not entirely clear. Team members may overly challenge each other, compete for resources, have different perspectives and withhold information from each other, which could cause frustrations and inhibit the team’s ability to accomplish their targets.

As team leader, it is up to you to surface and manage these team dynamics, so that they don’t escalate into fractured relationships and that you can begin to move towards greater team cohesion and alignment. This will only arise through co-creating the rules of engagement and attaining collective buy-in and commitment as to how the team needs to work together in order to succeed.


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what are the essential areas that you need to gain clarity and agreement on across your team? Firstly, what is the team’s purpose, as everyone should understand why the team exists and the inspiration behind the team? Each team member should understand not only their own strengths, but also that of others and roles should be aligned with these key capabilities. What team culture or atmosphere do you want to create together?

Once you have looked at these, consider the quality of interpersonal relationships within the team. Trust comes first - it is the foundation of every good relationship and it provides the platform for effective communication where people can be open and honest. Think what barriers to trust there may be within the team and how you could start to break these down? We also need to respect those that work with us. Respect is demonstrated by how we value each other’s input and ideas and vice versa. In good relationships, diverse people and different opinions are both accepted and welcomed, and time should be taken to consider these insights. Other than feeling appreciated and listened to, it additionally allows for creative insights and more effective problem solving. How accepting are your team members currently of each other and what can be done to foster mutual respect?  It is also important to consider the impact our words and actions have on others and that we take responsibility for what we say and do.  If and when conflicts arise, how will these be managed effectively? How will you help each other thrive? As the team leader, you want to be seen to model the behaviour you would like to see in others.

Finally, there needs to be a clear decision-making process, with team members supporting decisions once they are made. It is also important that performance accountability is clear on both an individual and team level. Writing a team charter may be a good way to consolidate what has been agreed.  Overall, the more clarity there is within the team, the better the team will function.

Doctor’s prescription:

It is vital that you spend sufficient time on building your team before you focus on achieving your targets - the actions and interventions you take now will have a major impact on whether your team ultimately delivers. You can’t over-communicate in these early stages, so keep your door open and focus on the team connecting with each other.