By Audrey Epstein
The future brings with it the opportunity for change, growth, and renewal. People commit to accomplishing new work goals or resolving to finally complete old ambitions. What if we could start over with our teams as well? What if we could take the old patterns of dysfunction, of gossip and infighting, or of cliques and politics and turn them into high-performing team behaviors? Toxic team behaviors destroy employee morale and engagement, stifle creativity, and stake personal agendas above team or organizational goals.
So, how do you reset with your team? Here are four steps to consider:
1. Diagnose the current state of your team. You need to know what’s working and what’s not with your team before you do a full reset. Start your diagnosis by identifying the type of team you currently have. From my organization’s research, we know teams can be categorized into one of these four types:
- Saboteur Teams. The worst of the worst. Distrust, politics, infighting, and gossip are hallmarks of Saboteur Teams. Win/lose thinking and survival tactics take precedence over shared goals.
- Benign Saboteur Teams. What team? These risk-averse groups are characterized by lack of interaction, support, and alignment. Typical characteristics include a “you stay in your lane while I stay in mine” mentality. While team members don’t actively hurt one another, they don’t do much to help either.
- Situational Loyalist Teams. Good, but not great teams. Pockets of trust, collaboration, and support exist but not with all team members. There is more focus on keeping the peace than speaking up, mining for conflict, or driving peer-to-peer accountability.
- Loyalist Teams. Extraordinary teams. On these highest-performing teams, all members feel accountable to shared and aligned goals and provide honest, candid feedback. They actively work to make others better, trust one another unconditionally, and are loyal to each other, the team, and the organization.
How would you characterize your team? Do you need to move from good to great? Is your biggest issue trust? Are you missing shared goals? Reflect on your team leadership practices and talk with your team to analyze the current state.
2. Set your intention and own your role. As a team leader, you have an exponential impact on the state of your team. If you want a team reset, announce your intention to the team. Take ownership for your role in allowing—or not adequately dealing with—the dysfunction. Create a compelling view of a better work life with a stronger team. Demonstrate commitment by setting up time and resources to develop the team. Loyalist Teams are built over time and with great intention.
3. Create team norms. Toxic teams have learned bad habits. Without focused effort to transform this destructive behavior into new, more productive practices, the lingering resentment and negative patterns will reemerge, even with good intention. Work with your team to identify five to seven new norms of behavior. If you have a Saboteur Team, you might want to start with such basics as:
- Extend trust and assume positive intent with each other.
- Talk to each other, not about each other.
- Respect each other and listen openly to others’ views.
If you have a good team you’re trying to make great, you may be ready for more advanced norms around candor, feedback and accountability, including:
- Provide candid feedback to each other.
- Put the toughest issues on the table and talk honestly about them.
- We will hold each other accountable to achieving our goals and living our team norms.
Once you agree to team norms, set up check-ins, reminders, and accountability to make norms real and meaningful for the team.
4. Set team goals. On Loyalist Teams, all team members have skin in the game. They are committed to shared goals—not just their own objectives and agendas. They work hard to balance ego and personal ambition with team or company needs. You can build this type of joint commitment by developing shared team goals.
Help team members see the bigger picture through exploring how work intersects and aligns. Share each team member’s goals with the whole team to look for gaps, overlaps, and commonalities. Enlist your team members in setting two or three team-level goals they can all support. When team members engage in planning and problem-solving work together, they practice being a Loyalist Team. They learn the mindset and skills they need to sustain teamwork. They learn the power of joint accountability and commitment.
Be intentional in your efforts—and persistent—and you’ll reap the rewards.
Audrey Epstein is a partner, The Trispective Group, Boulder, Colorado (www.trispectivegroup.com) and coauthor with Linda Adams, Abby Curnow-Chavez, and Rebecca Teasdale of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations.