Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Help Teams Benefit from Crisis Part 2

When faced with a crisis, managers should make time to ask people (individually or in small groups) what they are really thinking and what has been going on behind the scenes. Some of the “good folks” may tell you they are fed up with others who are divisive and who seek to demoralize the team.

Although it may be uncomfortable, putting the ugly stuff on the table does not usually make it worse. That stuff was there already (buried deep and percolating) before the crisis forced it to the surface. Yo can’t deal with what you can’t see. But when you see it, hear it and can touch it – you can take steps to fix it.

When people start to talk candidly and honestly, don’t defend, explain, argue or rationalize. Wander around the problem(s), ask lots of questions, listen very carefully at what is said and what is NOT said. First, you will hear the symptoms of the problem(s). Scratch the surface, and you will find the real issues. It’s kind of like having a headache – the pain is the symptom, but the cause could be any of a dozen things. Find the causes, then take action to resolve the underlying source of the team’s dysfunction. This may include restructuring, helping the team create healthier ways of naming issues with each other face- to-face and encouraging less confident members of the team to courageously speak up on issues that affect them. You may need to discipline or even eventually dismiss employees who do not respond to corrective feedback and continue to drag team morale and productivity down.

The moral of the story: When war breaks out in a dysfunctional team, don’t be too quick in your efforts to reinstate peace. We can be too uncomfortable with conflict and too quick to suppress it. Dig a bit deeper and you may find some underlying causes that if resolved will lead to a stronger and more productive work group.

Paula J. MacLean is the author of several best-selling human resource books that provide practical advice on how to be a good supervisor and manager. Visit her website at

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