Correcting Team Performance Problems

Sometimes the team as a whole isn' t working well. There' s some sort of bad karma going on, and the team is stumbling around trying to find its direction. Or, alternately, the team is fragmented into cliques, and people aren' t talking to each other. Both situations are bad for project deadlines.

You manage this by using communications skills to get at the root of the problem. You then develop a plan to address or correct the problem. For example, suppose that you have a project in which a few developers tend to travel in a herd, leaving the other team members out of the picture. Maybe you could solve this by having some regular potlucks where people are required to get their dinner and sit at a table with the rest of the team members (no taking your plate back to your desk!). Diversity potlucks are especially fun, because people of different backgrounds get an opportunity to bring in food that they enjoy to share with others. Almost everyone loves to eat, and it' s a great way to break the ice so that your developers can meet others besides their own kind.

Or, you might schedule some teambuilding sessions (early morning or late evening, please—not during times when people are concentrating on activities) where you do something fun. You could do free-throw contests, see who can blow up the biggest balloon, or any of hundreds of other quick and fun things to do. One company I work for brought in a bunch of water squirters one hot day, and at lunchtime everyone went outside and went berserk with them. It was a fun, cooling way to relax for a while. You don 't need to do anything extravagant—just think about things people like to do together.

You could also have some contests. Perhaps send around an electronic crossword puzzle and ask each team member to fill in a word. Or put up some of those poetry magnets that you can buy in the bookstores, little refrigerator magnets with all sorts of words on them, and see if you can get a poetry contest going on the team fridge.

Creativity, open communication, and the understanding that people are still people, regardless of how complex or basic their skills are, will help you unlock the mysteries of team performance. (That and beer. Lots of beer.)

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