Re-engineering a Dysfunctional Team


Whilst working with a large Local Authority the head of one of the service divisions asked for my help with his team. The team had direct external customer relations and provided a pivotal service linked to transportation.


Over time, the team had broken down considerably, to the extent at which the lines between what is acceptable and unacceptable had been eroded completely. Things really were beginning to get out of control, and individuals were becoming stressed, defensive and verbally attacking each other.


As with all Local Authorities, budgets, time and people were scarce so the situation declined over a number of years, and they were at the point where there was a direct negative everyday impact on the customer.


The key problems being faced at this point in time were:


·         Several complaints from both external and internal service users

·         Arguments and negative behaviour towards colleagues

·         A complete lack of ownership when things might have gone wrong or when colleagues were on holiday


As with most Local Authorities there had been many changes over time, some of which were unpopular with individual teams. In my view change had not been communicated in the most effective way, and individual’s comments and inputs had not been listened to.

The best performers were constantly relied upon to ‘carry’ those who were not performing as well. This therefore was rewarding poor performance with less work.


The situation had got so poor certain people were physically moved so they were not near each other.

Alternatives I Considered


1.      Buying-in training, or sending people on a generic development programmes

2.      Using some existing managers to Mentor others

3.      Doing nothing

We decided:

·         Point one - needed to be ‘bespoke’ for the seriousness of the situation, and the budget was not available.

·         Point two – It would have a seriously embarrassing impact upon the service manager, so we needed to keep the           solution within the department

·         Point three – Due to the seriousness of the situation this was never really an option


My Proposed Solutions


I knew this would not be something which could be resolved in one session, some of the team members had difficulty sitting in the same room with each other. So, I suggested with the service manager I spend a day with all the team to at least.


1.      Get them all the communicate with each other – even if they just spelt out their difficulties and differences

2.      For them all to understand each other better

3.      To know what poor and effective team look like and how they behave

4.      To leave the session with a set of behavioural guiding principles they have developed, which can be built upon.


I planned to achieve the above outcomes with a combination of tools and exercises, this session ended with each team member identifying where they felt the team and each person sat on a spectrum of more and less effective team behaviours.


Everything up to this point was confidential and not shared with anyone outside of the room.

As I sure you can imagine, this was a big challenge, and there was some real hostility, and some tears along the way.


Immediate Outcomes

Although this was a part of the process, and a real challenge the day ended in the following outcomes:


The key outcomes were:

1.      Able to communicate with each other, without conflict

2.      Those who were moved away from colleagues were moved back, without conflict

3.      The whole atmosphere in the unit lifted they very next day

4.      They now had a set of guiding principles, developed by them, which they did adhere to



1.      The service manager was able to begin to build the team to a higher performance level, using the principles developed

2.      Change was more commonly accepted, and in addition, communicated clearly

3.      Both internal and external customers noticed the positive change, and complaints decreased

4.      People shared more work and personal experience and activity – people began to have fun at work


As suggested above, the process provided a positive platform from which the service manager and the team could monitor team and individual performance initially from a behavioural perspective.


Of course, the tasks needed to perform roles were important, however in this case the barriers to performance were behavioural. Focusing upon behaviour and not personality can have more of a significant impact upon both individual and team performance, as it did in this process.


If you would like to discuss how I might be able to help your Business please do contact me.