Steps for Eliminating Uncooperative Teams

By Diane Katz  |  Posted 10-25-2010

Uncooperative Teams: How to Dismantle Them

Silos grow in their destructiveness when senior executives are not aware of how rampant they are in the organization, or else they choose to look the other way in hopes that the problem will go away on its own. Perhaps most damaging is the manager who encourages silos in the belief that they will spur workforce productivity or benefit the organization in some way. Once you've identified the 10 telltale signs of uncooperative teams, you can take steps to dismantle them.

Here's an example of how silos can lead to poor decision-making. Let's look at a large organization with more than 10,000 employees whose CIO has been in the job for four years. There are five direct reports in a matrix organization built around internal client groups, development, support and service.

The CIO meets with the team infrequently-- perhaps once every six to eight weeks. Some significant layoffs have occurred over the past three years, so resources are slim. The direct reports meet without the CIO once a month, at the CIO's request, and he thinks this is enough to enable teamwork.

The five direct reports would all like the CIO's job one day, but the CIO has given no indication that anyone is being considered. Instead, he tacitly encourages internal competition. Now that resources are at a premium, there is a constant jockeying for people and budget. Each direct report meets with the CIO individually and pleads his or her case.

The CIO doesn't respond to any of them, instead encouraging them to resolve it among themselves. The CIO has pet projects, based in part on the preferences of the president, and these get a boost in resources. Instead of letting everyone know how resources are being allocated, the CIO makes decisions in private and does not openly discuss the rationale.

Because of this, the direct reports grow more and more mistrustful of each other. They think that their meetings without the CIO are a waste of time because the "real" business is done in their one-on-one time with the CIO. At first, there was open discussion of issues but as mistrust grew, less information was openly discussed.

Over a six-month period, there was open disagreement without resolution--and even some misinformation. The group was deteriorating, and it  filtered down into the ranks. Members of one team began bad-mouthing members of another group within the IT organization.

Bottom line: People were wasting time and precious productivity.

Steps for Eliminating Uncooperative Teams

If this example sounds a bit like what's happening in your organization, take heart. Fixing the silo problem takes time, and you need to be consistent. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Meet with your team and tell them that you are fully aware of what is happening, that you want all of them to function as a team, and that you will be taking various steps to ensure that this will happen.
  2. Examine the compensation plans of your team leaders. Are they being paid to cooperate or compete? If it's the latter, you need to explain that they will be evaluated mostly on their cooperation, not on competitiveness, which can be destructive.
  3. Meet with your team at least once a month and ask questions, such as: "What collaborative teamwork have you used to help various projects succeed?" or "Do all the players have sufficient information to get their jobs done?" If the responses are "none" or "no," it's your job to analyze how information can flow better and faster. But do not get into who is wrong.
  4. When appropriate, begin a talent exchange between managers. This will make your organization more attractive to employees, will support cross-training and will expand the knowledge base in your organization.
  5. If one of your managers complains about another one, bring them both into your office, sit them down and explain that you want them to settle their issues. Be the facilitator; do not be the decision-maker.
  6. Publicly acknowledge efforts that succeeded through collaboration.
  7. Develop a decision-making process for the allocation of resources, and let every team member know what that process is. Be transparent about pet projects.
  8. If there are poor performers on any of your teams, encourage managers to coach, train or fire them, rather than hand them off to each other. Monitor movement among teams in your organization to ensure that this happens.

You can still encourage internal competition. Just make sure the competition doesn't get in the way of meeting organizational goals. Silos may be good on the farm, but they don't work in the office.

Diane L. Katz, Ph.D., is president of Tucson, Ariz.-based consulting company The Working Circle.