Even great teams need a tune up, now and then

Dear Joan,

I work for a medium-sized health care facility. I believe that I work with an extremely talented and dedicated team. For the past year, I have noticed a change in the way situations are handled. In the past, situations were considered “challenges” or “opportunities for growth.” The team got together and problem-solved and divided the work. People volunteered to help each other if needed. Now I observe a lot of finger pointing and blaming when problems occur. People are quick to criticize instead of support and problem-solve. I don’t understand the reasons for the change in personality.  How can this talented and dedicated team get back their more confident and, I believe, true character?


Your team may be experiencing any number of problems. Health care is undergoing a tremendous amount of change.  It used to be a fairly predictable environment, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Today, every health care organization I work with is in the throws of re-defining itself; from how it’s organized and how it gets paid, to who it serves and where. I suspect your group hasn’t escaped this reality.


With that as a backdrop, let’s diagnose this ailing team, and see what solutions might be prescribed.


Everyone is being asked to do more, with less.

The group used to have the luxury of time. They could help each other out when the workload became uneven, and they could take time to problem-solve during the week. Now there is little time to get your own work done, let alone help anyone else.


With less time, informal communications have slipped.

One of the first things to go in the heat of battle is the informal chats when people come in at the start of the new day. People don’t ask, “How was your weekend?” for example, because they don’t have time to listen to the answer. Groups don’t go out to lunch and catch up on each other’s lives. Instead, they grab a sandwich and eat it at their desks. And that’s when it starts: the slow disintegration of the team. A work team without that informal “glue” that holds them together as people, degenerates into a group of people racing through the day with their own issues and agendas. Without solid relationships, it’s easy to slip into a selfish mode where no one has time to help anyone else.


Formal communications get put off “until there’s time.”

The staff meeting hasn’t been held for a month. Quarterly “state of the business” meetings don’t happen at all. No one has had time to get to know the two new employees; in fact, they haven’t even had time for “New Employee Orientation.”


The leadership has changed, and with it come new expectations.

When a new leader or leadership team enters the scene, a key variable has changed. People are in a state of alert. They study the new dynamics and expectations. Some people scramble to measure up, while others sit back and wait to see which way the political wind is going to blow. In any event, there is heightened tension to perform. 


Business pressures are intensified.

Some people in health care resist thinking of it as a business, even though they know they must.  For instance, they don’t want to think about cost containment when a patient’s comfort and health are their primary goal. Yet, everyone in health care is confronted with these business issues on a daily basis. It’s difficult to be nurturing and supportive when you’re short staffed, you’re getting pressure to meet your budget and there aren’t enough resources to go around. Departments begin to get into a wrestling match over resources and budget dollars. Barricades go up where friendships used to be.


Team members have changed, or the group has gotten bigger.

It is always easier to build a team when it’s small and the members remain fairly constant. As soon as either one of these things change, the dynamics shift. What was once a smoothly operating team can fracture into subgroups. If informal leaders emerge, the subgroups take on the traits and characteristics of those leaders. If one of those leaders happens to be cynical or negative, the die is cast for conflict. If there is a power struggle between groups, a war can break out.


Perhaps the best way to diagnose your ailing team is to first take the temperature by examining some of the above hypothesis. Next, start asking fellow team members what their perception is and try to win support for regaining a healthy team atmosphere. Get the group together and takes turns rating the health of the team on things that are (or at least used to be) important to them. Identify where the gaps are. Discuss how roles have changed and negotiate, or renegotiate roles. Takes steps to put some healthy infrastructure in place.


In some cases, the situation may have deteriorated so severely that trust is broken.  It can be very helpful to bring in an experienced consultant, trained in creating a safe environment and facilitating your team in setting their own ground rules & expectations,  and brainstorming solutions that work for everyone.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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