In a nutshell...

This project involved working with a team of people who had, over the years, slipped into a highly dysfunctional state. When we were contacted, the department was on the verge of closure. Head Office had tried everything they could to resolve the difficulties and we were informed that we were the last resort. The objective was to restore the fractured relationships and renew the team as a whole. The key to this intervention was getting each individual to start taking responsibility for both their own behaviour and for the state of the team. We began by meeting each team member individually and then proceeded to bring the group through a precise development process which was designed to move them from a place where everyone was blaming everyone else to one where each person was working on themselves and their own behaviour. At the end of the programme, which was presented over a 12 month period, we had achieved the objective. The team was united and relationships were restored.

Restoring a Dysfunctional Team to Good Health

Restoring the unity, relationships and effectiveness of a team that had over a number of years slipped into a highly dysfunctional state.


A healthcare provider with residential units throughout Ireland.


The client had come to us as a last resort against a back drop of a myriad of previously failed interventions. One of the client’s healthcare facilities which provides 24hr care for residents was operating over budget and was structurally and operationally in considerable difficulty. The working environment was poor for the employees and the residents suffered as a result. Communications were strained between certain parties, inappropriate relationships had evolved between others, cliques had formed which had resulted in open criticism and arguments between colleagues and respect for both on-site management and head office was at an all-time low. The objective, which appeared out of reach to the client, was to restore this group of people to a fully functional and effective team.


At the point when the client asked us to intervene, a number of initiatives had already been implemented with no success. Many of the team members were no longer speaking to each other. There were serious doubts as to how the team would respond to a new attempt at resolving the situation as well as whether or not the team members would even agree to meet with us in the first place. Finally, we were informed that we were the last resort, and that if we failed to achieve the objective, the facility would be closed.


The first question we asked was ‘how did this team of people end up in such a poor state?’ It became apparent that the cause did not lie solely with the team itself; management had played a part, as had head office. While getting this across was essential, it was most challenging. In addition, the 20* individuals in the team each saw their 19 colleagues as the cause of the problems. In other words each person believed that everybody else was to blame and conveniently left themselves out of the equation. While it is true that the contribution to the difficulties did vary from one person to another, they had all collectively created the situation that they found themselves in. Raising awareness around this individual and collective responsibility was both the challenge and the key to the solution.

*The team of 20 included three members of management.

What we did

The solution was to proceed with the team of 20 through a step-by-step process moving them from the erroneous view that ‘everybody else' is the cause to the more enlightened position of seeing that ‘each one of us’ is part of the cause. The team also had to appreciate that only on recognition of this fact would resolution be possible.

Topics that we addressed included:

  • Raising self awareness around our own behaviour.
  • Communication and the impact we have on each other.
  • How we fuel unnecessary gossip, and other unhelpful communications.
  • Moving the reference point away from ‘me’ to the good of the ‘team’
  • Making the care of the residents the focus of our work.
  • Agreeing principles that will govern how the team can operate in an excellent manner.
  • Special sessions with management on the need for ‘operational closeness’.

In addition, we conducted meetings with Head Office highlighting their (unintentional) contribution to the difficulties.

The focus throughout the process was on each individual growing in awareness of their part in the situation. This was conducted in a way that was non-threatening and non-exposing.

The key to the resolution of the difficulties was based on this simple principle: no individual will consciously choose a lesser or poorer situation. We will always choose whatever we believe is the better option. The process we brought the group through was one where people were being constantly presented with a better option which they eventually chose.


Throughout the process pennies dropped and realisations dawned for people until we reached our destination which was marked exactly 12 months later at a special celebratory dinner, attended by all of the team, management and the CEO. The team was united, working well together with each person concentrating on not bringing what they formerly brought to the team. Some found it harder than others and some repeatedly fell back into old habits. However, a further 12 months on we were reliably informed that all is well, the service is operating within budget, the team is working well together and the difficulties of the past are where they belong – in the past.


Developing Effective People Managers