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Team remediation

This page is about fixing problems in your team.

This material is adapted from [DDL01], except where otherwise noted.

Dysfunction is not bad

Team dysfunction is not necessarily a bad thing, if you can notice it happening and learn from the experience; indeed, great teams can result from dysfunctional teams working through their problems. “Transformational learning, i.e. the evolution of an activity system to a higher maturity in their organization of work, will occur if the team succeeds to resolve their conflicts and contradictions and achieves a shared mental model. The cycle of transformational learning is represented by an ascending spiral. First, tensions increase within or between activity systems. Second, there is recognition of problems that are growing with established practices or activities. Third, there is a period of conversations, sense making and improvisation in which models emerge leading to the creation of new knowledge of practice or revised patterns of practices and activities. Fourth tensions arise within the new patterns triggering a new cycle upward.” [FKL09]

That is to say: when you notice your team isn't working well - that's a great opportunity for everyone on the team to learn something and to become a better team as a result. Not only that, but the practice you get at resolving team differences will be valuable to you later in life too.

Dominant team members

You know you tend to dominate if you :

  • interrupt frequently to interject your opinions;
  • restate your opinions often;
  • state your opinions forcefully;
  • speak often, preventing others from having a chance to participate;
  • criticize the ideas of others too quickly.

Steps you can take to reduce your tendency to dominate:

  • resist the urge to interrupt;
  • limit the number of times you state the same opinion unless specifically asked to repeat it;
  • start your statements with “I think,” not “Everyone knows” or “It's so obvious.”
  • be aware of the proportion of the time that you spend speaking compared with others in the group; if you are using more time than others, give them a chance;
  • refrain from hasty judgment;
  • ask open-ended questions that will encourage others to participate.

Encourage others to express contrary opinions by:

  • waiting until others finish speaking, even if you are sure you understand their argument;
  • restating the main points of the other person's point of view to ensure you fully understand their perspective;
  • asking the person to verify the accuracy of your restatement and clarify it if necessary;
  • identifying the points about which you agree;
  • stating the points you disagree with and why, if appropriate at the time;
  • not engaging in side conversation while someone else is giving an opinion;
  • focusing your attention on the speaker.

Ensuring fair decision-making processes

Designing in groups is a decision-making process. Here are some characteristics of good group decision-making processes and how you might achieve them.

Ensure opportunity for participation: make sure every member has a chance to speak

Enforce consistent rules: get all team members to agree on basic criteria; all ideas are evaluated against those criteria

Stop bias from being a factor in making decisions: all team members have an equal chance to participate in both idea generation and evaluation of ideas

Ensure correct information only is used: make sure alternatives are fully understood by all team members before making decisions

Leave opportunities to reconsider decisions: do not ignore new evidence that suggests a decision could have been wrong

Managing conflict

Here are some basic rules for managing conflict.

Acknowledge that conflict is normal and is to be expected: build time for debate into your schedule; and for feedback and discussion

Acknowledge personal biases: judge content, not delivery; use others as sounding boards for your ideas

Understand project definition and constraints: review tasks to be done; assess resources needed to complete tasks; determine who does what and when

Encourage open participation: Ask others to contribute; listen to all alternatives

Acknowledge that participants are new to a task: take the time to know your tasks, and to get to know the strengths and weakness of your team members

Seek to understand the ideas of others: before getting those around you to understand your perspective, try to understand theirs — you might realize you are closer to theirs than you thought

Don't always be right: acknowledge that others have good ideas – don't immediately correct others and tolerate imperfection

Simple quiz to assess your team's conflict management style

Answer yes or no to each of the following questions:

  1. Do you or your team members accept solutions and ideas without thoroughly discussing the pros and cons?
  2. Do you leave team meetings without fully understanding what is to be done next or why?
  3. Does your team keep having to deal with the same problems?
  4. Do team meetings stay focused on the task at hand?
  5. Do you or your teammates present a position and then immediately back down?
  6. Do you sense that you or others feel uncomfortable saying what you really think or feel?
  7. Do you or a few others on the team tend to dominate discussions and planning?
  8. Do you or your team members believe that keeping everyone happy is more important than finding the best solution?
  9. Do you or your team members blame others when things do not go as planned?
  10. Are you part of a clique that sticks together, regardless of the issue?
  11. Do you or your team members show reluctance in considering alternatives that you did not contribute?
  12. Do you or your teammates interrupt, or talk over, others?
  13. Do you or your teammates lecture others in order to convince them you are correct?
  14. Does your team decide major issues by voting?
  15. Does your team attempt to satisfy everyone by incorporating everyone's suggestions, even if they weaken the solution?
  16. Do you believe that most of the decisions your team makes are less than ideal?

If you answered YES to any of questions 1 to 4, your team may be avoiding conflicts. You can try to:

  • decide to explore fully the pros and cons of each issue that comes up, even if it means and extra-long meeting or some extra stress on the group for a while
  • before the meeting closes, have team members summarize the next steps for which they are responsible as well as the rationale for those steps
  • start meetings on time
  • create an agenda of the issues to be covered for each meeting
  • appoint a team member to be responsible for keeping the discussion on track

If you answered YES to any of questions 5 to 8, your team may be too quick to accommodate. You can try to:

  • have team members who present an argument for or against an issue fully explain their rationale and defend it against counter arguments
  • start discussions about the pros and cons of an issue by having team members write down their support or argument on paper, and then have each contribution read aloud and discussed
  • appoint a different person for each meeting to act as facilitator – this person should ask for each person's inputs
  • evaluate each idea against the criteria for a good decision and not just because it was suggested

If you answered YES to any of questions 9 to 13, your team may be in a fighting mode. You can try to:

  • refrain from passing judgment or assessing blame if things do not go right
  • divide cliques and meet in different subgroups to discuss issues, so everyone sees different sides
  • ask members to defend an idea they disagree with in an effort to get them to see the positive sides of an alternative they did not consider
  • spend one meeting reviewing the principles of active listening.
  • remind team members that each idea needs to be evaluated against the criteria of the best solution and not genesis of the idea

If you answered YES to any of questions 14 to 16, your team may be too quick to compromise. You can try to:

  • refrain from taking a vote to decide an issue, even if it increases the discussion time
  • appoint a team member to the role of results checker – after a decision is made, this member walks the team through the evaluation and compares the decision to these criteria
  • encourage debate by having each team member state the pros and cons of one alternative, and have the rest of the team respond


DDL01. a P.G. Dominick, J.T. Demel, W.M. Lawbaugh, R.J. Freuler, G.L. Kinzel and E. Fromm (eds). 2001. Tools and Tactics of Design. Wiley and Sons, New York.
FKL09. a D. Forgues, L. Koskela, and A. Lejeune. 2009. Information technology as boundary object for transformational learning. J Information Tech in Construction, 14:48-58. (link)
design/team_remediation.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)