Diagnosing Team Problems

I’m studying Building High-Performing Teams on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

The Sources of Team Misalignments

  • Team culture is the rules you make that guide how we work together and solve problems
  • Even with explicit rules, goals and norms, it is still possible to have a harmful team dynamic.
  • Over time, rules become habits, and hence we don’t consciously think about what we’re doing (second nature)
  • Rules that may have made sense when the team formed, might not make sense any more (things always change). However, we might not notice this.
    • e.g when a small company grows into a large company
  • It’s hard to have self-awareness of our own tendencies
  • Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
    • System 1: fast and reactive thought
    • System 2: slow and reflective thought
  • Distraction by phones and email keeps us in System 1 thought, without much chance to go into system 2.
  • This makes it harder to reflect and harder to be aware of our own habits
  • We are over-confident in our ability to understand other people

Environmental Misalignments

  • VW pollution masking scandal
    • Consumers have become less accepting of environmental scandals
  • The external environment – something outside the team changes, but the team does not notice or adapt.
  • Causes of misalignments:
    1. focus on shared information
    2. ignoring alternatives
      • recency bias
      • over-valuing outcomes
    3. Focus on self-interest
      • motivated blindness
  • For all these reasons, teams fail to adapt.

Individual Misalignments

  • One of the main causes in Microsoft’s decline in the 2000’s.
  • Stack ranking assessment – reduced trust and damaged Microsoft’s ability to innovate
  • Team goals should align with individual goals (WIIFM)
  • Individual goals can change. Some examples:
    • Junior colleague develops new skills, gains new career aspirations
    • Things change at work (conflicts develop over time)
    • Things change at home (e.g. start a family)
  • Psychological safety: an environment where team members can take risks.
    • Examples of risks:
      • admitting mistakes
      • addressing conflict
      • offering competing ideas
    • These are risks because no-one wants to feel left out of a group.

GM Case Study

  • Applying lean thinking as used in Toyota to GM
  • Needed to promote better team collaboration.
  • Management worked on promoting a team collaboration culture that emphasised product, quality and safety
  • Scenario:
    • Tracy (an anthropologist studying the GM culture) is sitting in break room.
    • She hears a loud crash outside, and a hissing sound
    • Running out, she sees a stud gun lying on the ground.
    • The stud gun appears to be broken, and fallen over. There are studs scattered all over the place, and air hose that was attached to the gun is swinging around wildly.
    • Team members shut off the host.
    • Ned (electrician, long time employee, union member)
    • Normally Ned would just attach a new stud gun, and get the assembly line moving again
    • However, in this case, Ned believes that the air system is just too damaged to safely use the backup stud gun.
    • Ned thinks the whole assembly line needs to be shut down while the system gets fixed
    • Al (Ned’s supervisor, contracted employee, shorter employment history than Ned)
    • Al’s first reaction is to get the assembly line moving again as fast as possible
    • Al tells Ned to bypass the problem and use the backup stud gun
    • Ned tells Al “stay out of the way, you don’t understand the problem”
    • Al ignores Ned, and tells the rest of the team members to get the line moving again (“Those are my profits lying on the ground”)
    • Ned walks away frustrated, says “I’ve been telling management that it was never a safe operation around here”
  • Analysis:
    • Al’s behaviour would result in a reduction in collaboration.Al is shooting down new ideas, and not willing to listen to alternatives. There appears to be a lack of psychological safety.
    • Al appears to be focused on his individual goal (“those are my profits lying on the ground”), at the expense of the team goal (product, quality and safety)
    • I would look to change the extrinsic individual goal to more closely match the group goal, perhaps by promoting profit sharing based upon meeting group goals
    • I would also look into coaching team members on handling conflicts

Team Culture Types

  • Team culture is defined mainly by two characteristics:
    • How hierarchical the group is? How is authority distributed in the team? Hierarchical or flat?)
    • How cohesive the group is? Is it more individualistic or cohesive?
    • These can be represented on a 2-dimensional grid, leading to 4 quadrants
  • Troops: individualistic and hierarchical
    • Strong leadership, but little horizontal collaboration
    • Common direction provided by the leader
    • Lack of feedback, since member work independently
    • Watch for a lack of information flow between team members to see if there are inefficiencies
  • Believers: cohesive and hierarchical
    • Example: teams at Volkswagen
    • Energise and rally about a common vision
    • May find it hard to challenge each other in productive ways, which can lead to poor decisions
    • Watch to see that members feel comfortable speaking up and offering an opposing view
  • Virtuosos: individualistic and flat hierarchy
    • Benefit from having individuals who are willing to challenge each other. This helps them get the best ideas on the table
    • Lack of team rapport or a strong leader can cause them to pull apart under stress
    • Check whether you have a strong enough common vision and clear roles to keep them all on the same page
  • Friends: cohesive and flat hierarchy
    • Example: WL Gore – flat hierarchy with teams of 8 – 12 people (10,000 employees total)
    • Give them a common set of values that bind them together and then empower them to find ways to make the company successful.
    • The empowering approach can lead to great results in the long run since team members become highly engaged and collaborative.
    • In the short run these teams get a slower start as individuals take time to build trust in each other and get comfortable with their roles
    • Be careful that you don’t have trouble making decisions quickly and setting a new strategic direction when the situation calls for it.
  • There is no one right culture, need to be aware of the tradeoffs with each one
  • Shapre your team rules to play to your strengths and pay careful attendtion to the problems that may arise in the group

Misalignments Checklist

  • Checklists help you focus on the simple things that matter
  • Misalignments are about team members doing something different to what they originally said that they would do
  • This checklist helps to you pay attending to saying/doing gaps
  • Create a checklist like this:
    • Create 3 columns in a document:
      • First column: Rules
        • List the rules made in the team charter, one per row
      • Second column: Misalignments
        • Note anything that is different to what the team said that they would do
      • Third column: Situational Factors
        • Hypothesis as to what might be causing the misalignment

Taking the Team Temperature

  • This is a way to diagnose issues from other’s perspective
  • Check in with other people to get their sense of the team dynamic, and get the sense if they’re on the right track
  • Three strategies for soliciting feedback:
    1. Team Temperature Survey
      • 3-7 statements, keep simple
      • ask questions, rate from 1-5
      • questions like “We have clear goals”
      • Not an in depth
    2. One on one meetings
      • These can allow people to discuss issues that they would not discuss in front of the whole team
    3. Periodic check-ins with the whole team
      • e.g. Retrospective, or start a meeting with 10 minutes to share thoughts
      • Can do this in a “Third Place”, which are separate from home and work.
        • This helps enhance our creativitiy
        • Help creates a more casual and friendlier rapport
        • Help team members become more receptive to other’s opinions

Interview: Dr. Jack Gutsche

  • Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Penn Lung Rescue Program
    • Takes care of patients before and after open heart surgery (very sick people!)
    • Lung Rescue Program – allow people to put peole on lung equipment outside of hospital
    • Transport team
    • Critical care transprot nurse
    • Paramedic
    • Perfusionsist (runs the heart/lung machine)
    • 2 physicians (implement the machine, and manage the patient)
    • 6 people in team
    • All highly trained, each has their own individual role, but have to interact will as a team
    • Physicans are the team lead
  • Typical rescue situation
    • Carries a pager all day
    • Called by outside hospital, who despirately needs help
    • If agreed, talk to family (who are under stress)
    • Travel to hospital via helicopter
    • Pandimonium! Patient is being kept alive
    • Lots of pressure to move fast
    • Can’t move so fast that you’re making mistakes
    • Need to be able to land and have the patient ready to be put on the equipement within 15 minutes
  • What can go wrong?
    • Multiple things can happen!
    • Bad weather – change from flying to driving.
    • Ended up driving in their own car, splitting up the team
    • Even with the machine, people can still die
    • Need to be aware of different factors that can cause death
  • What do team leaders do to address challenges?
    • Chain of command
    • Large amount of communication
    • Need to be able to receive and give feedback
      • If someone sees a leader doing something wrong, they must be able to speak up
    • Experienced team – you can trust their feedback
    • Protocols help!
    • Walk in quietly and efficiently – others will take note of your behaviour (no screaming!)
    • Protocols mean that everyone already knows what to do
    • Simplifying as much as possible, minimising the amount of choices
    • Drills or simulations
  • How do you manage team members who get emotional under stress?
    • Have discussions, either before, or in a debriefing afterwards to explain to them what’s going on
    • If that person understands that everone else has as much buy-in as they do, they tend to calm down.
    • Re-assurance and feedback are the keys
  • How to do you check in to keep your team on track?
    • Debrief after each event.
      • Everyone brings up issues that they think are important
      • Some people don’t work well (shy, rude). Have a one-on-one
    • Regularly scheduled operations meeting
      • Problems discussed
      • Plus things that went well!
      • People have time to think about things, better feedback that the debrief immediately after
  • How do you create space for constructive feedback?
    • If people don’t feel comfortable giving you feedback, it can be devastating because it can really cripple you as a leader
    • When hearing negative feedback, as a leader you need to give very positive feedback immediately. (“I really needed to hear that!”, “I would love to hear more about that in the future”)
    • It really builds a lot of trust in the team if you’re vulnerable
    • You need to reflect on your failures
  • How do you encourage good feedback between team members?
    • Stress that everyone there cares very passionately about their jobs
    • Depersonalise it, make it clear that *everything* is systems issues based on the protocol. Make it about the system
    • If you are asking someone to give their own self assessment, give your self assessement first so that other people feel that they can open up
  • When can you recogise team misalignments?
    • There is always a certain amount of background noise
    • # of complaints
      • Zero background noise is a problem
      • Lot of yelling and screaming is a problem
    • Breakdowns in standard operating procedures
    • People stop coming to work
      • is this someone trying to escape because we’re over-stressing the team.

Understanding Your Team’s Culture


The Five Biggest Teamwork Ills

  • The Five Biggest Teamwork Ills
    • Overemphasizing abstract goals
    • Underemphasizing roles
    • Making too many rules
    • Ignoring reflection
    • Failing to sell the change

Building Psychological Safety in the Workplace

2 thoughts on “Diagnosing Team Problems

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