Like a well-oiled machine.  Which employees have said that about the system or process in which they work?  If it was you, how fortunate you are – and possibly superfluous to your team, but that’s another article.  OPM has articulated five factors to drive an engaging workplace, and one is collaborative management, or how well teams collaborate and communicate to accomplish the organization’s goals.  Is your team performing at optimum levels?   Let’s be honest – dysfunction resides in even the most effective and efficient processes.  What can you do to improve dysfunctional processes in your organization?

1. Understand the rules and expectations

The first order of any business is to learn the rules and if you’re savvy, you’ll learn them through the lens of the other stakeholders.  Do all members of the team understand the process and their role in its success?  More importantly, have they agreed to the rules and the expectations?   Perceived rules might have been agreed upon by those on a previous tenure, or some perceptions might have deviated from the perspectives of the larger group over time.  Sometimes a reset, review or revision of previous agreements is helpful, especially when there has been a significant turnover of stakeholders.

2. Inventory Your Threshold

Check where your tolerance resides on the spectrum of dysfunction.  Of course, we’d all like to eliminate or at least minimize dysfunction, but are you only able to work in environments where everything is working just right? Or are you comfortable, or even thrive, in environments where chaos is the norm?  Most of us reside somewhere in between, and we’re not often exactly sure where our boundaries are until they’ve been breached.  What is your reaction when the level of dysfunction exceeds your tolerance level?  You’ll be better prepared to deal with issues more objectively if you’ve done this self-discovery work in advance.

3. Address Priority Failure Points

In his book, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni notes that professionals often spend a considerable amount of time and energy avoiding conflict, when engaging in debate could be what makes the team more effective.  The key is to engage in productive conflict.  Forgo the criticism on mindsets, and instead focus on the actual behaviors that impede the group from performing at its optimum level.  It’s often minor variations in how stakeholders view certain aspects of a process that cause the dysfunction.  Address variations in behaviors compared to previously established agreements, and their negative impact on the overall process.  This could help stakeholders understand the potential efficiencies that could be gained with minor modifications.

4. Learn to Work in Imperfect Conditions

Most of us get paid to solve problems – expecting an atmosphere where everything (and everyone) works perfectly is unrealistic.  Find a way to do your best work in conditions that are less than perfect, productive, or efficient.  This doesn’t translate to succumbing to the dysfunction.  Apply whatever autonomy you have in your sphere of influence to enhance the framework of the process in ways that will move the team forward.

5. Communicate Consistently and Persistently

Correcting dysfunction requires a consistent message that is delivered reliably each time dysfunction derails your process.  Ensure your leadership understands the impact the dysfunction has on the larger system and goals of the organization. Listen to stakeholders who identify challenges in meeting expectations, and be ready to modify the process if a change will result in improved overall team performance.  The evolution will be well worth the effort.

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Melissa Jordan is an Executive Writer at a US Government agency. With more than 20 years in professional communication and over 16 years of experience working in cross-cultural environments, her most valuable lessons have been learned by trial and error.