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When Good Teams Go Bad–What to Do You Do When Trust Is Gone?

As in the iconic 1972 movie, The Godfather, every team you’ve ever been on begins with a wedding.  It’s not just that the bride and groom are getting married–it’s the marriage of everyone on the team. The wine is flowing, the outfits are lovely, there is dancing, speeches and toasts.

As a team member, it’s after the wedding reception is over that you have to keep the team relationship alive.  There are few human experiences that produce a greater high than working on an effective team.  But what do you do when a good team goes bad?  In The Godfather, the beginning is about making common cause, respect and loyalty.  By the end, it’s pride, power, and intrigue.

So how do we know when a good team goes bad?

1.  Watch the Numbers to Tell You If the team Is Unraveling–the Numbers Are the Early Warning System.  If your project is behind, overdue, out-of-favor, or unsuccessful, the team will begin to its first signs of unraveling.  It’s not a matter of if it will happen, it’s a matter of when.  When the numbers are bad, the pressure is on, fingers are being pointed, there are whispers in the background, and accusations are being made.

JackAirstreamPhoto32.  Everyone Goes Silent and Gets Busy on the Team–Nobody Has Time to Talk to Anyone.  There still are Happy Hours in the afternoon, and people greet each other warmly in the halls and meetings.  But everyone has less interaction, and they’re in a hunkered down mode.  Emails are more perfunctory and are beginning to go unanswered.  Meetings are inexplicably canceled, even on important topics.

3.  Avoid Denial–Remember that You Don’t Have Much Time–Take Action.  When you hear these early warning signals that the team is unraveling, your natural reaction will often be denial.    You believe that you shouldn’t make waves, you should avoid frank conversations, and if there is an elephant in the room, you should look the other way.  Remember that you have less time than you think–not more–and the situation is worse than you thought.   In times like these paranoia is your friend–act now.

4.  Launch a Communication Offensive to Key People in Your Organization Beginning Right Now.  Here’s something you can do that others won’t bother to do–make a list of everyone in your organization who would be important to convince if you were applying for your job today.

Then re-establish your relationship with these key people, preferably in short one-on-one meetings.   Remember that if you keep a heads down, work hard, don’t look up approach, the most incompetent people you know will be talking to your team members and your bosses, and you want your stakeholders to know you’re working to build the organization.  If the people you’re scheduling meetings with cancel your meetings, there was never a time that you need to be more persistent.  Keep after them until they meet with you.

5.  Disrupt What’s Happening to Your Team–Communicate, Reorganize, Recommit.   The  cost of a failed team to the organization is enormous, and it is amazing how organizations allow teams to fail.  When good teams unravel, they can be put back together again.   Putting the team together in a team session is the only proven way to put teams together.  It is not the work of an untrained person.

You must work with a professional facilitator to put together an agenda that lets the team put everything back into place.  You must first address the business problems the team is facing.  You must then establish fundamental common causes that will draw the team to work together.  Then the team must establish the ground rules that it will follow.  Finally, a true system of accountability must be established.  Regular meetings of the team must continue to do a diagnostic of how the team is doing.

6.  Protect Yourself at All Times.  This is a fundamental rule in boxing and in teams, because people are unpredictable and you can receive a blow and literally not know where it came from.   Staying on with a team that cannot correct its direction a long time after you should have left is damaging to your psyche and your career.  Don’t take it personally.  Know when its time to move on before you get shoved.  Even NFL teams have wins and losses.  What you learn today will catapult you forward tomorrow.


Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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