Friday, October 10, 2014

Transforming a Dysfunctional Team: Has it only been 6 weeks?

The DBA team was collocated with the Data Management Services (DMS) team to help build a closer relationship between the two teams and to encourage conversation, collaboration, and pairing so support work can be transitioned in time and without impacting customers.

After one-on-ones with each team member, I quickly realized that the relationships within the DBA team were more than strained and had been this way for a long time. So much so that it was an unhealthy work environment for team members, it impacted the progress on project work and support work; moreover, it affected the quality and speed of customers service.

I consulted upper management with my recommendation that the team not be ignored but instead we take time out to assess the team and its management to see if they could be salvaged with coaching. Since I was already currently busy coaching another team and did not have the bandwidth to coach another team full-time, they paired me with an internal senior manager, Steve. Steve had a history of successfully coaching dysfunctional teams. He collocated with the team and we spent the next week observing, asking questions, and taking notes with the team and management.

The culture of blame overwhelmed this team and management so much so that it was impeding progress of work, relationships were fragile, team ownership was non-existent, team members and management frequently quarreled, the team was not empowered, work was micromanaged, work was not prioritized, work was not visible, there were no WIP limits, a team member was not working at a sustainable pace, there was a lack of communication with team members, and new team members were not on-boarded nor was work transitioned.

In the end we recommended that the team return to a time where all the DBA's were equal to help nurture a team environment along with guidance from coaching and management. I would coach the team on playing to win and being solution-focused, aligning change with canvases, and agile practices to help improve their processes. Steve would pair with me coaching around team dynamics and he would maintain the delegated authority as a interim supervisor for priorities and HR issues.

To allow the team to start owning change, transition meetings for the work from DMS, that the DBAs will now manage, would include all of the DMS and DBA team members.

To set the stage for this transformation Steve and I paired on presenting my session on removing blame with the DBA team. It was difficult to discern how much they retained but we felt there was enough buy-in to share our intent to introduce the concept of a lean transformation canvas to the team and for me to begin developing the strategy canvas with the change agents.

The change agents included their interim manager Steve, other senior management, directors, and the deputy CIO. They collaboratively created, with my facilitation, a shared vision of the DBA team for the next six months with an improvement strategy canvas.

We then designed an interactive workshop with the DBA team to share this strategy canvas with them, get feedback from the canvas, create a team canvas for the next six months, and initiate process improvements through exercises focused on prioritization, pulling work, and visualizing work.

Due to resistance throughout the workshop, one day was spread across three days because of frequent attempts to derail conversation, reluctance to collaborate, and frequent participant disengagement. The team was hobbled by reservations about whether they would have a voice in REAL change and if progress could be made with team dynamics. Despite the struggles, Steve and I remained patient, took the time to answer each question and encouraged when someone tried to disengage.

We believe this contributed to the team walking away with a bit of curiosity, some working agreements, criteria to prioritize their work, a mechanism to visualize their work, a clear vision, and a commitment to try to foster a team environment by the end of the workshop.

For this to actually happen we reiterated that they must own this change and that we will be there to help facilitate conversations to initiate collaboration; however, the goal is for them to self-facilitate, to self-manage, to be solution focused, and to function as a healthy team without oversight.

The team had to commit to taking the time and putting forth the effort to foster these changes. Team dynamics, the culture of blame, dealing with imposed priorities, and process improvements were not going to change overnight. We were going to do this incrementally. Implementing facilitated retrospectives, stand-ups, backlog grooming and planning, and reviews were options the team agreed to learn to help get them there.

Retrospectives allowing the team to start a dialogue about what is working, what's not working, and how can they improve began yielding team agreements despite the persistent resistance of a team member to participate by contributing ideas.

Stand-ups helped the team to start having daily conversations and bring visibility to their work. Moreover it has grown to them pulling work, establishing pairs for work when needed, discussing priorities, bringing visibility to WIP for each team member, identifying items for escalation, focusing on project work, swarming on project work, and discussing process improvements in-time.

The state of the backlog was unknown and many tickets were open for over two years without action. There was no process on how work was pulled and requests got ignored. Planning has helped prioritize work, share ownership of scheduled/repeatable work and identify project stories ready to play next. Those stories came from the story map we built for a project that started a year ago that had not progressed. Grooming the backlog has closed outstanding tickets that were actually completed, estimated and identified tickets that were really projects that should be prioritized and approved, reassigned tickets to appropriate groups, removed 2/3 of a team member's WIP (45 assigned tickets), estimated open support tickets, and reduced the entire backlog by over half.

We have made many incremental changes that has led to small wins. These change experiments only move from a stage of learning once it is a part of the team's culture of how they work.

Still plaguing the team is team ownership of work is not yet accepted and understood, WIP is reduced but limits are not set, and not having a digital kanban board in place to visualize work in-time with a remote team member. There is also a lack of trust due to the history of blame and conflicts among team members which is demonstrated by the spirited confrontations that occur almost weekly.

The team has the potential to flourish and build a reputation for quality service and practices if they desire to move beyond the past, become solution focused, begin to trust one another, and truly commit to work together. The potential is there for this team to become one that other teams desire to emulate.

Follow me on Twitter @_AprilJefferon

For more on transformation canvases go to or checkout my post on Road to Team Transformation: My First 30 Days.

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