Peter Cullen is currently the author of the Career Doctor articles appearing in the Institute of Managers and Leaders publication named Leadership Matters. The columns on this page have appeared in Leadership Matters. Peter also wrote a weekly column on Workplace Behaviour for the Courier Mail in Queensland. The ebook containing the Courier Mail articles is a free download.

Dysfunctional teams

A young manager takes over a dysfunctional team. What are the best ways they could go about raising standards?

It is easy to become overwhelmed, lost and bewildered as a young first time manager taking over a dysfunctional team with a very negative culture. Even worse if there is little or no support to coach or guide you through the steps you must take to establish your credibility and garner trust from the members in your team.

Having a plan at the outset can be very useful provided it is reasonably fluid as things may be different from what you first anticipated. Investing a little bit of time to find out about the teams background can be extremely helpful as this provides historical knowledge for you to draw on when needed.

So where to start? 

Who are you: At the earliest opportunity, speak to the whole team in an open and honest manner about your work history, who you are as a person and an overview of why you were given the position. 

Your intentions: This is where parts of your plan come in which will include building trust, credibility and collaboration. You will need to be inclusive whilst remaining cautious about how you explain your vision of the team’s future, especially when it includes building a stronger more positive and proactive culture within the team.

Personal interviews: It is imperative you spend one on one time with each team member as soon as possible. This provides the opportunity to learn more about each other on a personal level and let them know about your role and responsibilities and to remind them of theirs. To ask the important questions which should include what is important to them, what is working well and why, what could be improved and how. It is one of the best ways to find out what the real concerns are. This should become a fixed weekly or fortnightly catchup to provide and receive open and honest feedback.

Team cohesion and collaboration: As soon as you know what is working well and what needs to be improved from the team convene a team meeting. Advise the overview of consistencies from the one on ones and your desire to tackle the areas which need to be improved. Ensure you ask them how they believe these areas could be improved. Empower them to take action where possible and for them to work individually, in pairs or as a team whilst you take responsibility for the big ticket items. You will also need to find out what is fixed due to business requirements and ensure this is well explained. 

Accountability: You are accountable for your performance and behavior and so should your team, with built in consequence when addressed and not acted upon. People have Position Descriptions and companies have various policies and procedures to assist you to do this including the Code of Conduct which is a set of behaviours all employees agree to adhere to. 

Remember respect, credibility and trust are supported by consistency and fairness in all you do. You are a role model from the very first moment you enter the team and they will be watching you.