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Dysfunctional Teams

In “The Five Dysfunctions of a TEAM”, Patrick Lencioni tells a fable about choosing a new CEO for a promising start-up company that was floundering. I have changed the story a wee bit to be the Project Optimization Corporation that were missing schedules, going over budget, change notices were flying and owner moral had deteriorated as had the project contingency fund.

As the story goes, Kathryn the new Project Manager was hired due to her success in making an automobile manufacturing plant one of the most successful in the country. She had an amazing gift for building teams!

Kathryn had her work cut out for her as the project team executive know as "the executives" were well intentioned but exhibited extremely bad behavior in meetings with few real exchanges to solve issues or make decisions. In the first month Kathryn learned about her team, developed a plan and scheduled a realignment session for the purpose of rebuilding the team. In her early dealing with some of the key players, Kathryn need to apply some firm attitude adjustment measures that ruffled some feathers in both the owner stakeholder and design camps. This raised concerns with the CEO of that hiring Kathryn just might not have been the right choice for leading the transformation of this large project.

In a followup meeting with the CEO, Kathryn explained how the team was broken and if she was going to fix this team she needed full support. Her analogy was a broken team is like a fractured arm, fixing it is painful and sometime you have to rebreak it to make it heal properly. We need to learn how to have the tough conversations needed to establish the type of behavior that is best for the whole team and getting this project back on budget, on time and delivering the value we promised.

We need the team to commit to reliably delivering the right work in the right sequence at the right time to optimize work flow. We need the team to set and achieve challenging targets that become the motivator for achieving exceptional results. There also needs to be a system of performance metrics to keep the team on track to achieve the intended result.

Based upon making a strong business case, Kathryn was given the power to make decisions, access to all of the information she needed assess the situation, she had the knowledge needed to do the job and was motivated and determined to be effective to:

·      Build a Trust Based Foundation

·      Promote Healthy Conflict (Crucial Conversations)

·      Commit to Good Behavior (Team Manifesto)

·      Establish Accountability for Getting Work Done (Production Systems)

·      Measure Key Performance Indicators (Performance Metrics)

Build a Trust Based Foundation

Building a trust based foundation is key for exceptional work to occur. Without trust we cannot make reliable commitments and keep the promises needed for reliable constraint free work flow. Building a team based upon trust enables the team to accelerate through the forming, storming, norming stages of team development and get to performing stage.

In traditional project delivery, working in silos is a barrier to building the level of trust and collaboration needed to achieve much higher levels of performance. That is why teams working need to meet regular and operate with systems and processes designed for building relationships, trust and collaboration. Getting the team together often and collaborating to solve issues is a good way to establish the trustful relationships.

Promote Healthy Conflict

To achieve challenging targets requires having the crucial conversations needed to change behavior and implement new practices to minimize waste and improve work flow. People often resist change and so it is going to take some healthy conflict to get everyone on the same page and rowing in the same direction. 

Knowing that only 10% of people will take the steps needed to address conflict, we need to create a safe environment for this to occur. It is also essential to not place blame and look into the mirror to question ‘what could I have done differently’ to avoid a situation that could negatively affect the building of trustful work relationships.

Commit to Good Behavior

A good approach to establishing the type of behavior needed to act as a team is to spell out what good behavior looks like and set clear expectations for how the team will operate as a team. This is best handles by a Conditions of Satisfaction or a Team Manifesto document so there is a clear understanding and commitment to what success looks like for the TEAM. A Team Manifesto for a building project might look like this:

  • Exceptional teamwork, with everyone being profitable

  • Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted

  • Deliver value as outlined in the Owner’s Project Requirements with minimal change orders

  • Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery the project using a production management system

  • Testing to target is completed frequently, to avoid waste associated with redesign

  • Close, daily cooperation between trades, owner and designers to enhance work flow & decision making

  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)

  • Working with systems and achieving schedule are the principal measure of progress

  • Balance work load to be able to maintain a constant pace

  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design

  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential

  • Self-organizing teams that can adapt to changing circumstance


Be Accountable for Getting Work Done

Making work ‘transparent’ or accessible and visible to all team members at all times is the key to getting commitment for getting work done. The open sharing of work with cross functional groups provides opportunities to contribute knowledge that may shape the outcome of the work. Transparency improves predictability by allowing the whole project team to know progress and the quality of work that is being delivered.

Once project milestones have been set the team needs to develop a plan to deliver the work. This plan needs to be developed collaboratively by the people doing the work.

“To achieve Great Things, two things are needed; a plan,

and not quite enough time” [Leonard Bernstein]

PLAN: Includes milestone and phase planning, pull planning to meet phase plans and utilizing a three week look ahead to plan for constraint free work flow

DO:  Manage design production by establishing weekly work plans

CHECK: Test progress against plan and make adjustments if required.

IMPROVE: Stop to fix problems with workflow and develop new standardized work procedures.

When we apply the rigor of a production system, teams are better able to plan and coordinate work, to get work done in less time and with fewer resources (due to reduced waste and rework).

The process involves the following key steps that need to be repeated on a weekly basis.

●     Layout a minimum of six weeks of work aligned with project milestones

●     Review the last week’s work plan and determine the percentage of plan completed

●     Analyse why tasks were not completed and address at the next coordination meeting

●     Re-plan unfinished work seeking commitment

●     Plan new work taking into account available capacity and the schedule

●     Get and manage commitments from team members

●     Check and adjust as regularly as possible to avoid delays

●     Identify any missing data/info as a constraint to be resolved

Measure Key Performance Indicators

The team needs to measure progress by continually testing designs to project requirements, team health to the team manifesto and work progress to a challenging work schedule. The team needs to meet weekly using a common pattern with all key decision makers so that issues can be resolved and decisions made to continually improve the delivery of value, production performance and the health of the team.

In this little fable we learn that it takes leadership, commitment, accountability, behavior adjustment, production systems, performance measurement and crucial conversations are key for team alignment and winning at the project delivery game.

Murray Guy

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