Going Undiagosed

Published: March 22, 2013

Three years was enough. The pain had simply become unbearable. The symptoms could no longer be ignored. It was time to get a proper diagnosis and consider treatment options. Ever since the economy bottomed out, the team had been spiraling toward its demise. Organizational morale was at an all-time low. Top talent was jumping ship. Yet, their competitors had already recovered. Perhaps it wasn't the economy...

The story told by the metrics of the team effectiveness survey suggested a different source of pathology. The team’s vulnerabilities were most visible in the “trust” section of the data. Although most employees reported having a trusted colleague on the team, the practice of collaboration, coordination, and cooperation was disabled. A-level clusters of talent housed within shouting distance of each other were not sharing vital resources.

There was no obvious explanation. Unselfish sharing of expertise would be to everyone’s advantage. Yet senior leaders were hoarding business intelligence. Undiagnosed, the chasm widened each day. Once the assessment illuminated the symptom, the search for the source of the problem was underway.

The diagnosis surprised the majority of the team. The explanation hadn’t occurred to most employees because it hadn’t been visible to them. Only a subset of the team had become aware of the rift between a small group of key leaders who had been forced to take sides after a protracted internal power struggle. Unbeknownst to the larger team, the fighting leaders had chosen to solve their disagreement by refusing to ever talk again. It had devolved to a grade school playground battle.

Since the diagnosis was so simple, the treatment plan was equally clear. Play nice in the sandbox or leave. The actual ability of the warring factions to establish a truce was yet to be determined, but the direction of the remedy was absolute. If they could do it, professional collaboration and sharing would resume. However, if the personal disagreement was more important to them than the team’s business goals, their leader was poised to help them launch their job search.

What a relief!

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.