August 17th, 2017
People are checked out. Projects are slipping. High performers are leaving the company and the part of your team that is still intact leaves early every night.
Your team is broken.
How did this happen? It’s probably a combination of factors but chances are it’s mostly your fault. Not due to one single thing, but rather a cumulative build-up of what you did, didn’t do, and factors you had no idea were even an issue.
The good news is that it’s not too late to fix your broken team and turn things around.
It’s doable if you are committed to looking objectively at your behavior and working hard to improve. If you half-ass it, you’ll wind up in a worse position than you started. Nothing kills team morale more than getting their hopes up that the job will get better only to see you fall back into old habits.
So take a long, unforgiving look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re ready to hear some harsh truths. And then make some real changes.
Check Your Ego
First things first — your habits. Accept that you are likely a major factor in the unhappiness of your team. You might even be a bad leader. As hard as it is, be ready to hear from the people who work with you what specific areas you need to focus on improving. Their ideas about what’s wrong with your leadership style might not match yours.
Next, set up time to meet with every person on your team. Explain that you can see there are problems and that you want to work together to address them. Send an advance email explaining your observations and the goals of the meeting so people have time to reflect and come prepared. Make it clear that you are committed to working out solutions collaboratively.
Once you meet, explain the intent of the meeting again. Accept responsibility for most of the problems on your team, even if you know it’s not all your fault. Apologize for the role you played in things going poorly, and ask for help. Not only will your humility open up the discussion, you’ll also build trust with your team by admitting fault without drama.
After you kick off the meeting, sit back. Let your team members explain their perspective on the dysfunctions within your team. Pay attention to themes. Practice active listening and repeat back what you’re hearing so that you can be sure you’ve understood exactly what they’re saying. People can beat around the bush when giving critical feedback to a superior, so be sensitive to that.
Ask clarifying questions. Probe as needed to get a complete grasp of what they are saying. Whatever you do, do not get defensive or start making excuses. Nothing will shut down the conversation faster than being unwilling to just shut your mouth and listen without arguing or giving long-winded explanations for why everything you did — or didn’t do — was the right move after all.
Oh yeah. Put your phone away. At this moment, nothing is more important than your team. Take these meetings seriously.
Work on Solutions Together
After you discuss the problems, resist the temptation — and ego salve — of attempting the turn-around alone. Collaborating on solutions serves two purposes.
First, it builds empathy in your team and can help them understand how challenging your job can be.
Second, it solidifies commitment to making the changes stick. Cooperation from your team is critical because it is too easy for people to passive aggressively ignore your requests otherwise. But if your relationship with the team is in good shape, and the solution is something they were part of creating, they’ll feel ownership and be more likely to get behind it.
Do not rely on your memory during these meetings. Take detailed notes. After the sessions, send an email to your team summarizing what you heard, and assuring them that you’ll be formalizing plans to address those problems in the next few days.
Ship and Iterate
Quickly get some plans in place and start making progress. Communicate to your team what changes you’re making, both short-term and long-term, and why. Ask your team to hold you accountable. Then, actually do what you’ve promised to do. Do not fall back into old habits.
Hold regular check-in meetings with your team to get feedback on how everything is going. Ask them: “where can I continue to improve?”
Understand that like a piece of software, you’re not going to get it 100% right on the first try. Ship and iterate. Adapt to changes and continuously learn and improve.
Tackling the challenge head-on, and taking full responsibility, will help you overcome even the worst situations. Your success or failure largely depends on your ability to adjust your behavior; the team will take their cues from you.
It’s common to have a broken team. Don’t get discouraged. You might even come out stronger on the other end.