It can be a sobering experience: joining a new company or team, eagerly meeting the people already there, and the excitement suddenly washing away as you realize, “wow, this workplace feels kind of… dysfunctional.” Or, perhaps you have been assembling a team of your own from scratch, you added one or two people and it suddenly feels like chaos.
Here’s the good news: a workplace that needs improvement is very common, and there are quite a few cures to ease the tension. This article lays out why this type of dysfunction occurs, how to resolve the underlying issues and how to improve a workplace that needs help.
Is my workplace dysfunctional?
As a leader, if you are turning around a workplace, your first step is to diagnose the issue. Look for the following symptoms:
- Lack of communication and transparency
- Frequent playing politics and protecting “turf”
- Missing deadlines and blaming others
- Keeping information silo-ed rather than available for others
- Poor coordination (you hear different information from different people)
How do I fix a dysfunctional workplace?
Once you’ve recognized true dysfunction in a workplace you’re managing, don’t panic. While this is a serious problem and will likely hinder your ability to meet objectives in the short term, team dysfunction is very fixable. Let’s look at the steps you should take to transform the dysfunction into team unity:
1. Have 1-1s between people who are mis-aligned
The first step is to dig in and get the data. It starts with having a 1-1 meeting with each team member that may be contributing to the dysfunction. Your goal is to listen and get their perspective on what is working vs. not working. You are on a fact finding mission during this meeting. There are no wrong answers and you must strive to make your staff comfortable sharing insights about the workplace’s performance, so you understand what to focus on fixing. Avoid coming off as accusatory in tone.
2. Lay out the problems to the group
Once you’ve met with each staff member and compiled the insights on how each person feels the workplace may be struggling, organize it together into a slide deck and talk through it in an open, honest and blunt dialogue with the entire group. This may be an uncomfortable meeting, but its goal is to lay the problems transparently on the table.
3. Make the new direction clear and mandatory
During the group meeting, outline each of the problems you identified from your 1-1 meetings and discuss the steps you’d like the staff to take in order to resolve them. For example, one issue might be “sales and marketing aren’t working together, so the leads that marketing is getting aren’t qualified for our sales team.” In this case, you may suggest that the sales and marketing leaders align on a joint goal, meet every Monday at 9am to share progress, etc.
In this step, you must be clear that the ailments of the previous dysfunction (e.g. team politics, misalignment, etc) will no longer be tolerated. This meeting is a moment of reckoning, and you must come through confident and firm. It is a turning point for your workplace. Everyone should leave with clear tactical items they are going to be held accountable for.
4. Setup regular channels of communication
Now that you have outlined the issues and started to have the team explore solutions, such as in the sales/marketing example above, the next step is to create a rhythm of weekly/monthly communication that keeps the people at your workplace aligned. If you haven’t done so already, create a regular schedule of All Hands and Leadership meetings. Additionally, consider doing weekly written updates so there is a written record on what each person is working on and they can be held accountable.