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Improving the team members relationship in a new team with conflicting environment

Leadership
Conflict Solving
Collaboration
Toxic Atmospheres
Team Processes

9 September, 2021

David Garcia Berenguer
David Garcia Berenguer

VP of Engineering at Accointing

David Garcia Berenguer, Head of Software Engineering at BestSecret, shares how he managed to improve the relationship between team members in a conflicting environment.

Problem

There are situations when a new team is formed only by new joiners to the company. You don't know their personality in detail yet, but you see that the relationship between them is not good. They throw each other sharp comments and start working isolated instead of collaboratively as as team.

After talking to them one by one individually, they blame each other so it's not entirely clear who is creating the conflicting environment.

Actions taken

I was involved in several teams at the same time, but it was crucial to deeply involve into the conflicting one to get as much information as possible so I don't need to relay on their subjective opinion of what was happening.

Then, the next retrospective meeting was a good place to openly share the problems of the team and see what they suggest to improve.

This didn't solve any of the problems and bursted into a fight between each other, so the meeting was ended.

We had a meeting to talk about the current situation and how this was impacting the delivery of the team and that this is unacceptable for the company, so it had to change for the best.

I organised an off-site event with them to tackle the problems and reflect about possible solutions, the high-level agenda was:

  • Know more about each other: sharing their personal story, background, hobbies and what they like and dislike the most about the team.

  • Each person to identify two actions he/she could do to improve the things they dislike in the team.

  • Put all things in common, agree on an action plan and the expected outcome during the next weeks.

During the following weeks, they started to work together and learn how to collaborate and communicate keeping personal feelings aside, looking to the objective side of things.

The follow up sessions were a key factor on the improvement, since they knew they had to probe that they are doing better, providing specific examples of situations they handled in a conflicting way in the past and how they react now to the same situations.

Each time we did a small poll to assess the happiness of the team, and we found out that it was improving over time.

Over time, even if the team improved the situation, we ended up switching team members around to spread the knowledge and provide more opportunities to work with different people, but we all learn a lot from the experience.

Lessons learned

  • For new teams, it's key to start knowing each other very well and having a lot of activities to foster the good communication and habits, even much more than learning the technical side of the job.
  • When things turn south in a team, it's important that you, as a manager, share with them the impact of their actions, so they understand why it needs to change.
  • Having an off-site session was key to have an open and transparent conversation outside of the daily contaminated office environment.

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