For a team to work together harmoniously, all of its members must like and respect each other, carry their own weight and respond to each other’s needs and suggestions. Tensions appear when a team member fails in their duties as a ‘team player’, and swift action is required by the manager and the team to keep everything on track. Here we suggest some operational tools to structure the team plus an exercise to flush out the issue of engagement, or lack of, by team members.

Off the Rails

Examples of problematic, ‘non-team’ behaviour – and the different ways in which they can be assessed:

  • non-conforming
    not following the team way; but are non-conformists really a problem? doesn’t the team process need some stirring up now and again? decide they’re a problem when and if they actually interfere with the progress of the work in hand
  • non-participation
    the knee-jerk reaction is to label a person a ‘slacker’; but there are many reasons why team members drag their feet – eg they may have other commitments (inside or outside work), or feel threatened by someone else in the team (especially a ‘star’ player), or prefer to gather, absorb and process by themselves
  • non-productive patterns of behaviour
    the team becomes stuck in a ‘broken-record’ behaviour pattern, unaware that they are falling into repetitive and ritualised responses to each other; for example:

No Bad Thing

Conflict has its admirers:

“Why is there no conflict at this meeting? Something’s wrong when there is no conflict.”

— Michael Eisner, Disney Chief

“Most executives are uneasy with conflict and things that seem contradictory… too little constructive disagreement lulls an organisation into complacency.”

— Richard Pascale, management guru

  • move-oppose: one team member makes a suggestion, another opposes – based on a win-lose mentality
  • compliance: one team member makes a decision, the others fall in behind
  • covert opposition: one team member makes a suggestion, the rest appear to agree, but don’t
  • ‘groupthink’: the group develops a single perspective – sometimes due to pressure being applied to dissenters to conform to the consensus view – which leads to a reluctance to evaluate alternative policies

Back on Track

There is a degree to which conflict in teams is inevitable, given that there are a mix of different personalities and beliefs thrown together for a period of time. A manager should therefore be prepared for it, and know how he or she is going to react when intervention is called for:

  • involving the other team members

Codes of Behaviour

Before leaving to tour South Africa last year, the British Lions rugby touring company took part in a team-building exercise, which included devising their own codes of conduct, or ‘Lions laws’:

  • by splitting themselves into medium-sized discussion groups, they came up with 21 separate laws
  • ‘discipline’ included the limiting of alcohol, while ‘no cliques’ was aimed at encouraging members to sit next to people they didn’t know very well
  • they further agreed upon a disciplinary procedure, and nominated team members to sit on the disciplinary panel

One way to avoid many of the typical team conflicts arising in the first place is to build a ‘firewall’ in the form of a team code of conduct; have team members devise guidelines – aka ‘house rules’ – for working together; examples include:

  • all members to be present to make a team decision
  • if one member disagrees with another’s view, they must state why, focusing on the issue and not the person
  • each person must listen to the other’s viewpoint: no ‘overtalking’ allowed
  • the penalty if codes are not followed

  • focusing on the behaviour
    when addressing the individual directly, the manager should initially speak informally with the person, avoiding vague, subjective, opinionated judgements that try to say what a person is thinking or feeling; eg behaviour: “Simon did not ask any questions”; subjective judgement: “Simon didn’t like to ask questions, so had nothing to contribute to the discussion”
  • addressing the issue more formally
    where behaviour continues to be a cause for concern, a more formal approach is required, eg using the standard staff appraisal process; here, the individual’s manager should, with the employee:

    • identify the causes of the fall-off in performance: eg to discover the employee’s understanding of the job requirements and standards, the training required for the job, what external factors are coming in to play
    • set out areas for improvement and establish a plan to address them
    • establish a program to monitor and review progress with employee

STAR System: One Way to Keep Focus on Behaviour

An accurate description of ‘problem’ behaviour should include:
S = situation: conditions, environment, circumstances (what was going on at the time
T = task: purpose, desired result (what needed to be done)
A = action: responses needed (what did they actually do)
R = result: outcome (what was actually achieved)

Sally’s work team received several complaints about poor product quality and late deliveries. Her team did an analysis of the problem. Sally met with other team leaders, took criticisms on board, met with the team, developed a solution and committed to higher quality; memoed to other teams. Results improved; positive comments were received; her team and others work better together:

S/T: people were complaining about results; Sally needed to find out why

A: Sally personally talked to other team leaders to clarify problem and discuss solutions proposed

R: product quality, delivery and work relations improved

Monitoring Progress

The manager should continue to informally assist, coach and counsel the employee on an ongoing basis: they should also hold formal performance reviews at intervals decided on in the initial ‘investigative’ discussion

By the end, the manager should make sure they have:

  • reviewed behaviour
  • discussed performance improvements to be included in future goals
  • agreed to keep communications channels constantly open


The 4Ps of team members (draft copy – for discussion)

A way to explore whether a team, a group has gone beyond the storming stage of a group or that a few have been left behind and not contributing you might use the 4Ps model to explore the issues. The team leaders may then need to reflect on their behaviour or even call in outside help to normalise the group and then collectively perform.

So what are the 4Ps? They are archetypal characteristics that group members might exhibit at work, at a meeting or attending a lecture.

Participant: happy to be there. They want to learn and is enthusiastic and fully engaged with the process.

Passenger: physically in the room, but that’s about it. They are just along for the ride.They have no intention of disrupting the session, but neither will the engage with it or play an active role. They may treat the session as a diversion from the ‘day job’ or see it as irrelevant to their work, they are compliant because it is a requirement to attend.

Protester: they don’t want to be there, and will let everyone know about it! A protester will often disagree with everything, and generally go out of their way to make the experience as unpleasant as possible for everyone. They are a difficult individual. They may be troubled by something completely unrelated to the day job.

Prisoner: like the passenger, they are resigned to being there but, like the protester, they feel trapped and just wants to escape. Unlike the protester, however, they not confrontational, it is a passive-aggressive behaviour. Their behaviour, such as arriving late and not apologising, spending more time on their phone, even doing some on-line shopping are indicating their engagement with the event. Other signs such body language of folded arms, a sullen demeanour, no eye contact can speak volumes.

To know more about how to use the 4Ps, drop us an email.