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How to Mend a Broken Executive Team

When communication and trust break down among you and your top execs, you need to fix it fast. Here's how to get to the root of the problem.

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When stress is high and deadlines are tight, it's natural--and even OK--for a team to experience some tension. What's not OK is a breakdown in trust and clear communication. If you, the CEO, and your management team have gotten to the point where you're airing your grievances against each other to other people in the office, you need to fix the problem fast. 

Liane Davey, author of "You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done" and vice president of team solutions at Knightsbridge Human Capital, has a solution to fix communication and trust issues between executives. Davey has created what she calls a "Team Inoculation program," which she refers to as "the flu shot for teams."

"Few people are aware and honest enough to see the role they play in the dynamic of the team," Davey writes in the Harvard Business Review. "When things on teams go wrong, most people spend their time blaming everyone else for their predicament," she writes. "You have to take accountability for the effectiveness of your team."

The key to fixing a quarrelsome team is to recognize the role you've been playing and change your actions. Below, read the roles Davey has outlined with the necessary changes you need to make to come to a solution.

The 'Wicked' One

Usually one or more people are actively destroying the team dynamic, Davey says. If you rely on truculent tactics--disparaging, trivializing, and interrupting your team members, or spreading rumors and telling employees to ignore another executive's orders--you need realize you are causing the strife. "With greater self-awareness and some coaching, you can change. In my experience, the wicked team member is actually the easiest to convert. Usually this is because the wicked ones are smart and want to have an impact," Davey writes. But if someone else is the wicked one you have to "give them a way to make a more significant and positive contribution," she says.

The 'Wronged' Team Member

If you're the team member who has been marginalized and trampled, you need to change your attitude. There is no time for "wallowing" and you need to start standing up for yourself, Davey says, but do not go on the attack. "It's time to change how you show up. You might be surprised to learn that, in my experience, it's more likely to be the wronged who is voted off the island than the wicked. That is because the wronged often lack the energy and resilience to make another earnest attempt at making the team better," Davey writes. "They are exhausted by the experience and often past the point of no return."

The 'Witness'

You could very well not be involved in the dysfunction at all--you may be happy to sit on the sidelines and watch your team go after each other's throats. But, as a leader you cannot be a bystander. Not intervening when you know you should is just as bad as instigating the problem. A leader needs to mediate between the two opposing sides and help everyone come together again. "The witnesses are the first to throw up their hands and say that life on the dysfunctional team is unbearable. Unfortunately, commiserating does nothing to change the course of things, and their disengagement costs the team, too," Davey writes. "Are you just watching as your team goes down the tubes? Get in the game."

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Dec 3, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
@WillYakowicz




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