Dysfunction JUNCTION

By Logue, Ann C.; Droullard, Kathryn | PM Network, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Dysfunction JUNCTION


Logue, Ann C., Droullard, Kathryn, PM Network


When team members from across the organization meet, conflict can arise. Learn when to step in and when to step back.

Even the most professional of employees has been known to resort to dysfunctional behavior-the kind of stuff that mires teams in turf battles and causes colleagues to neglect a project rather than deal with the headaches. "Project teams never blow up over techni:al issues. They blow up over interpersonal issues," says Jeff Crow, president, Crow Development Corp., Portland, Ore., USA. "A lot of times we assume that because we're all adults and we're all professionals, we don't nave emotions and that we don't sometimes act like children."

To avoid such ugliness, project managers should steer clear of three common blunders.

Mistake 1: Assuming professionals know howxto work together.

Professionals may boast the functional skills they need to get the jisib done, but that doesn't mean they've picked up the necessary interpersonal expertise along the way. Although you may not be able to choose who will be part of your team, you can make a difference in how well they gel. To unite a group of diverse team members, set norms to keep the energy from being destructive, says George Eckes. Based in Superior, GoIo., USA, he is the author of Six Sigma Team Djmamics: The Elusive Key to Project Success [Wiley, 2002]. Doing so means going back to such fundamentals as making an agenda and sticking to it. "There is a tremendous absence of basic facilitation skills in any project we see," he says.

Mr. Eckes recommends project managers kick off new team efforts by covering how to conduct meetings, evaluate progress, and prevent and manage maladaptive behavior. "Without good structure to the group, it doesn't matter how great the people are," he says. "They will flounder if they don't have the systems in place."

In addition to establishing the rules of engagement, project managers should discuss team members' expectations and behaviors at the get-go. "Even if no one explicitly sets up a norm, norms are quickly developed in team settings," says Sujin Lee, Ph.D., a professor at the Team and Group Research Center at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Evanston, Ill., USA.

Project managers must deploy explicit vision, mission and instruction statements to set healthy norms that encourage cooperation, support and mutual interest, she says. Otherwise team members may fall into unhealthy behavior-competition, power struggles, conflict and self-interest. "It is essential that the team spend the time to ensure they understand the end-to-end requirement and the interfaces between them," says Ian Robson, managing director of Perception Dynamics, Surrey, U.K., a consulting firm that specializes in strategy and leadership development. He has teams work backward from the goal to delineate the necessary steps and timing. This practice gets them thinking about the goal from the start and creates an outward rather than internal focus.

Mistake 2: Forcing everyone to be on the same page.

This may be the trickiest mistake to avoid, because everyone comes from a different background, has different perceptions of work and different career aspirations. There should be a single, coherent plan of action for a project to move forward, but individual efforts and ideas must be acknowledged.

Project managers must also realize their projects may not be the only work a functional team member is expected to accomplish. As a result, too much "teamwork" may be counterproductive. First, project managers should determine which tasks can be carried out by individuals and which should be a collaborative effort. "People can work independently up to a certain point, depending on the project," says Jim O'Donnell, director of instructional design at MSI Learning, San Francisco, Calif., USA. Later in a project, when individuals are building upon each other's work, you need more team cohesion. …

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