Team Of Three Stinks!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about different work styles or just inefficiency: How I can communicate more effectively with this group in order to gain some sense of order…or does this fall on the shoulders of only my manager and I should just back off?

I work with a team of 3 people. My boss, a co-worker and myself, and we’re having some troubles communicating which is affecting our ability to get work done. The other two-team members are non-linear thinkers. They like to discuss and jump around and move around the issues at hand and then forget what the original intent of the discussion was.

I’m very linear in my thinking patterns, I like to identify the optimal end goal and then work backwards to plan out a plan of attack by breaking the larger goal into smaller steps and then apply timeline, anticipated hang-ups and buffer my date of delivery accordingly. Our work is part of an internal team within a larger corporation, and my background is for agencies that are external. So, I’m used to having to pull out all the stops when it comes to a deadline, because I also strongly believe that your word is your bond. If I give someone my word on something I do it. It is this philosophy that has established myself in our industry as being someone that people can count on and rely on.

Every day our boss changes direction like the wind. Every day different projects are moved up on priority over others and this is simply too dependent on who calls. He looks to both my co-worker and myself for answers, when really he should be leading us. The workload is increasing and is poorly planned and they constantly do not deliver on time. My co-worker is young and inexperienced and has spent the past two years learning bad habits from my boss. She is very articulate and speaks well but she always is out to defend herself, her work, her needs…and frankly in a team of 3 it really should be more about OUR work and OUR deadlines, I don’t think that she understands the whole team concept.

When I was hired, one of the reasons that I was told that I would be a good addition was that I could bring structure and maturity to the team. They really want to be structured and to be able to manage time well but when it comes down to doing it… i.e. I schedule work etc. No one sticks to the plan and then the priority changes the following day. They’re used to being able to get away with not delivering work on time; it really is frustrating.

If I hear my boss describe us as a ‘reactive’ department one more time, I think I’m going to scream! There is no reason for this nonsense. It’s just poor time management and planning. So when you’re in a team of three and two people think one way and the third thinks differently, there is a lot of conflict when it comes to planning how to approach and attack projects. I always feel that I have to defend myself constantly and that’s when I noticed it…I’m starting to become like my co-worker…it’s all “Mes” and “Is” instead of “Wes,” and I’m ashamed of it.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can communicate more effectively with this group in order to gain some sense of order…or does this fall on the shoulders of only my manager and I should just back off? My other concern with this is that, as a new employee at this company, I wish to establish myself with a good reputation, and I feel that working in this manner damages that reputation. I have tried to discuss this with the group and have had zero impact. I would appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Signed, Linear Thinker

Dear Linear Thinker:

Triads always can pit two against one. Dyads or equal numbered groups can always end up with one against one or two against two, etc. So you in a three-member team, especially since you describe yourself as new to the group, can be the odd man out–unless the boss weighs in to insist on structure or unless you can assert your linear way of scheduling projects. Don’t allow random riding off in all directions in a mindless Paul Revere fashion, as you say is the habit of your teammates.

To create some order out of chaos, you probably will need both to enlist the help of your boss and to assert yourself and assert yourself and assert yourself. How might this be realized? Rough out a time line schedule for each project with a critical path that designates who and when does what to accomplish the end objective. Propose to your team that you get the boss to meet with you as a team to get his/her input along side theirs to prioritize the projects. And then you can follow up that prioritized schedule as a your team for a buy it, modification or rejection of the critical paths you have proposed.

Or present your proposed schedule first to your boss both in writing and orally with an explanation that you are making this individual effort to create order out of changing priorities and consequent inability of your team to see through projects. Once you get the input and sign off of your boss and then the buy-in and modifications of your teammates that can be posted in bold linear lettering on the wall and tasks can be checked off as accomplished on the critical paths.

Getting a buy-in takes time for developing the details on a timeline, and often it takes establishing a pattern of how daily review sessions are run. You will need to develop how your team functions: when you meet, where you meet, who leads off, what is recorded, who informs and how approval is noted. I sent my advice to Steve Carney, one of our guest respondents who specializes in teamwork and is author of The Teamwork Chronicles, to invite his additional or challenge to the advice I have presented with the thought that then you will have this Workplace Doctor’s opinion and a second opinion in one package.

He sent: I looked over your response and it hit many good points. As you indicated, they have to work on their problems more fundamentally and strategically, rather than just seeing their personality and thinking differences.Some wag has said there is no “I” in “team”. That is not quite true. “I” must merge with “we”, and that takes straight talk, assertive, resilient, collaborative effort. That is the price we must pay to experience WEGO mindedness. Do keep us posted on what you do–what works and what doesn’t.

William Gorden