So, You’ve Just Joined a Struggling Team

It will happen to most of us eventually. We are asked (told) to join a team having difficulties and turn things around. The team may be challenged with missed deadlines, dysfunctional relationships and low morale, being over budget or behind schedule, or a lack of discipline and organization – and you are going to be the one to help pull the project out of despair and back into happiness.

When we are placed in these situations our natural tendency is to jump in and get busy “fixing” things. When we do this we also have the temptation to miss the real reason the team may be struggling or begin to formulate theories based on perceptions and superficial data.

To avoid this, take a little time to assess the current situation of the team. In this order, does the team have:

A vision gap. Does the team know where they are headed? Take a look at the product vision and roadmap. If it does not exist, is not well articulated or has not been shared with the team, work with the product owner to put this in place.

An energy gap. Has the team been working on the same project for a while? Because of their challenges, have they been putting in extra hours and working weekends? If so, they may be a tired team. Come in as a breath of fresh air instead of a whirlwind in this case. Find areas to slowly increase energy and sometimes it is best to start by saying, “How can I help?” Without a vision first however, the team will continue to feel as if they are on a treadmill heading nowhere.

A relationship gap. Do the assembled humans work well together? All it takes is one bad apple to ruin a team but perhaps the whole team isn’t working well together. There are a wide range of actions to take in this scenario. From setting up team ground rules or performing a team reset, to the extreme of disbanding the team and starting over, be careful in this space. Focus on having quality conversations.

A process gap. Does the team have a natural workflow and cadence established? A struggling team may begin to take shortcuts and will need to be nudged back into a state of flow. The team may have lost discipline over time and getting back to basics and simplicity is all they need.

A competency gap. Does the team have the necessary skills to do the work? There is reason to assess this gap last. If any of the previous gaps exist we may end up with a false negative with regards to the competence of team members. I have discovered most people will rise to the occasion when provided with a compelling vision, a likable, energized team, and a “right-weight” process to get their work done.

Len Lagestee is an Agile coach and blogger at www.illustratedagile.com. As an Agile coach, Len is interacting with large organizations to connect people, revolutionize leadership, deliver results, and humanize the workforce.

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