Avoiding Team Dysfunction while Leading and Managing Remotely

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Team dysfunction is costly, resulting in a 50-70 percent project failure rate. Devin Singh, Ph.D. — Professor, Executive Coach and SurePeople Certified Practitioner — shares three ways for leaders and managers to avoid team dysfunction in today’s largely remote work environment.   

In this day and age of remote work, it is becoming increasingly important to employ best practices to avoid team dysfunction.

Whatever issues one may face as a team while working side-by-side in an office, many of those are now exacerbated in a remote situation. Furthermore, additional challenges unique to remote work may also be introduced. 

Right now more than ever, good leaders and managers are establishing at least these three essential areas of clarity for their teams: 

  1. Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  2. Clarity on project goals and steps
  3. Clarity about the decision making process

Managing a team remotely doesn’t simply mean managing when nobody is physically around. The dynamics of communication, goal setting, motivation, and morale have shifted.

Good leaders and managers will be responsive to the new situation and its new challenges in order to help shepherd and guide their teams toward continued productivity and success despite the very real challenges they are facing.  

We know that team dysfunction can be costly. Studies suggest that failure to lead and manage teams through change and disruption can lead to a 50-70% failure rate with projects. Another study found that team conflict and miscommunication cost the US economy around $359 billion in paid hours. Knowledge gaps, structural holes, bottlenecks, and other blockages in communication or in delegation of responsibilities can also obstruct performance.  

In our new setting, with many employees working on their own from home, these potential pitfalls increase in likelihood even as new challenges emerge.

We know that many employees are not in ideal situations working remotely, whether it is difficulties in their home life, distractions, the very real, human problems of trying to work with family or roommates around, or infrastructure and connectivity issues that inhibit or slow down communication and response times.  

Add to this the potential for losing one’s bearings in terms of goals and direction for the team without the consistent and ongoing communication that often happens subtly, even non-verbally and casually in the office. Whether in brief conversations at one’s desk, in the hallway or the lunchroom, or in informal meetings in the conference room, where people can read body language and tone more easily, we no longer have the same level of access to this kind of information. 

This is why being clear is key. Here’s a breakdown of three essential areas for clarity in our new work environment:  

Good leaders and managers establish clear roles and responsibilities.

While individuals have different levels of need for clarity, being clear about who does what on a team is essential. Leaders who may not operate with precision-like clarity in their own lives still need to work to provide this for their team members. 

While titles and defined roles are important, even more critical are clear responsibilities and expectations for each role. An employee’s role and responsibilities may shift depending on the project, which is why the leader and team member must revisit these and be on the same page at the beginning of each new endeavor.

Once clarity and agreement are established, each team member’s responsibilities are communicated with the team so each knows what they can expect from others. Lacking such clarity and shared understanding can lead to conflict, lower morale, and lower productivity.  

Good leaders and managers facilitate clear project goals and steps.

Just as important as defined roles and responsibilities that everyone knows and understands are clarity and consensus around the team’s goals and the steps needed to get there. 

This will require consistent messaging from team leads, as well as open communication to allow feedback and input as the project unfolds.

Whether using approaches such as Agile or Kanban, or other project management tools, leaders and managers need to be provide clarity about project status, make room for necessary pivots and iterations, and provide space for these changes and updates to be discussed.

Whereas much of this communication could be implicit and assumed with members working and conversing in the same room, now it is essential for regular communication and check ins about project status. 

Good leaders and managers foster clear guidelines and dialogue for decision making. 

Decision making is the lifeblood of project success, because decisions are how action gets taken and progress is made. Without decisions or with clogged and vague decision making procedures, momentum stalls. 

In a remote situation, there is potential for increased errors, poor judgment calls, and more bias in decision making. This is especially the case if members are operating in a vacuum, not having key input, not seeing the full picture, or under stress.

It is essential that teams establish clear guidelines about decision making. This includes who makes what decisions, what kinds of decisions each are empowered to make, which decisions require team or managerial input and approval, and how to communicate that decisions are needed and to confirm once they have been made. 

Understanding how your people learn and process information is critical to how you communicate. Knowing what drives and motivates them is essential to setting and moving toward goals together. 

SurePeople’s Prism provides teams with these key insights. Using the data-driven psychometrics provides leaders, managers, and teams with the awareness and leverage needed to provide clarity and achieve goals more effectively, with higher buy-in, consensus, productivity and morale.  

Are your teams performing at their highest levels? Are you leveraging people analytics to drive better business outcomes? For more information about Prism psychometrics or our comprehensive SurePeople for Teams solution, please reach out.

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