Have we worked in teams with conflicting objectives and competing personalities?
Let’s examine this scenario.
At Ace Computing, there was a 5 member team in the IT E-commerce department with unhealthy team dynamics. They were Disengaged Dylan, “Know it all” Kayden, Silo Stephanie, “Anything goes” Alan and Domineering Diana. Kayden has been in this department for the last 8 years as the most “historical” figure who knows what happened since the company’s inception. The other team members have joined in the last 18 months.
This team was recently awarded a commercial infrastructure service project valued at $3.8 million, to be led by this Singapore based team and implemented by the IT helpdesk and call centre in Hyderabad. This was a 5 year contract with a European banking client, with clear performance indicators.
During a recent data migration exercise, the data backups were lost and not backed up on the server. The Indian IT team claimed to implement all the necessary processes and could not explain how the data backups went missing.
The client lead, Silvanna Murad was furious when she failed to receive a satisfactory reply.
“… such a basic service level agreement (SLA) and you cannot even deliver! How can we rely on ACE on more advanced infrastructure projects? This breach is going to cost you!”
Diana, started bulldozing the team with a list of who is to be blamed for what. She critically condemned the Hyderabad team for unprofessionalism, lack of accountability and failure to observe SOPs.
Alan felt uncomfortable with the team tension and was suspicious of his team mates. He decided to sit on the fence and refused to take sides.
As Kayden did not like Diana, he expressed how she was so rude, selfish and pushing her agenda to earn her promotion.
Stephanie lived in her silo world and wanted to protect her interests. She doubted her colleagues, so she used logic to decide the next steps.
Dylan was upset with the internal infighting. He wished this team was more harmonious. He wondered if his hard work made any difference.
As this dragged on, the Hyderabad team director resigned. During the transition, Ace was slow to appoint his replacement. As the conflict ensued, members were guessing who is responsible for what. No one explained the rules of engagement in resolving the critical incident. This led to more power struggles, characterized by lack of leadership, division, disagreement and unclear reporting structure.
The 5 member team was unable to embrace their diverse, cultural backgrounds and understand the cultural nuances between the European client and bridge that with the Indian helpdesk team.
Besides, there was a lack of shared team goals and mutual rewards to motivate them.
The team morale and trust was low, seen from the lack of respect with members blaming each other.
The team atmosphere was toxic and infected with mistrust, competition and hostility.
How do we to turn this storm into a high performing team? Have they worked through their storming phase? How can teambuilding raise their team cohesion to work towards common goals?
I was parachuted into the team crisis just as the team director exited. I was open and shared with them the current situation. I explained the gloomy outlook if the team continues down the same path. There were many rounds of 1 on 1 talks. We explored and discussed ways to manage this account and meet the SLA. We looked for a better solution together. I inspired them to look at our brighter future ahead. We agreed to rally together.
To brace the team together, I highlighted the corporate values of Ace Computing, namely Accountability, Courage and Enthusiasm.
This caused both the passive and aggressive team members to awaken from our fights. In our team meetings, we discussed and shared openly what these 3 values meant. We discussed the behaviours which demonstrated each value. This brought the team to a level of openness which pivoted our shift.
With a renewed outlook and shared values, the team mindset shifted. We focussed on the common goals of delivering the service level agreements in a consistent way. We were willing to be answerable for our decisions when working with the Hyderabad IT team. I stood up for our team convictions (demonstrating Courage in the midst of change). As these shifts started to happen, the others caught it and showed more enthusiasm in communicating, sharing information and problem solving.
Progressively, the blaming turned into asking questions and seeking the views of colleagues in Hyderabad.
The fault finding and finger pointing turned into the negotiating differences, agreeing to disagree.
The complaining turned into ways of working together, listening actively and close collaboration.
The nagging transformed into information sharing, encouraging words and praises.
The threats turned into decision making at a team level, supportive pats on the back and affirmations.
The punishments turned into respect and acceptance for each other. As our team values evolved, there was a shift from “ME” to “WE.” We bonded and created our new identity with belongingness, respect and trust. Recently, our team won an Innovation Award at a regional level. This was possible only after working through the storms and holding an open space for emerging future team possibilities. Today, our team mates have become great friends and our cohesion and engagement ranks high at ACE.
How would you have transformed this team conflict?
ABOUT THE ARTICLE CONTRIBUTOR
Linda Ng holds a Masters degree from University College London Institute of Education. Her vision is to be recognized as a People Architect who renews organizational growth through values alignment, culture diagnostics experiential learning. She held various L&D appointments managing regional training, talent management, performance and engagement. Linda believes in enabling people through empowerment to raise organizational performance and practices mindfulness in her everyday life.
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