Summit Group Partners Blog

Turning Around A Dysfunctional Team Without Having To Fire Anyone

 Guest Blogger Jeff Trump discusses how he turned around a team of executives who were not aligned and working towards the same end. Jeff has been a senior executive in the print services business for the last sixteen years and has managed multiple plants and more than 1,000 people across the country.


I was operating as interim General Manager of the West Coast facility, while also handling my duties as VP of Operations. Due to the high demands and needed focus on the total segment it was imperative that the plant leadership team was highly skilled, self-motivated and able to work well together to achieve the plant goals. These goals were as follows: Grow profitable sales, exceed customer expectations, and exceed the budgeted earnings. Obviously there were many other production metrics such as safety, productivity, quality, waste and on-time delivery. But the focus of the total team was to achieve the 3 primary goals.


I assembled a team that was made up of individuals that were the best in the company in their respective areas of expertise. These positions included: The Office Manager (managing sales/customer service), the Order Entry/Composition/Prepress Manager and the Production Manager. While they were all exceptional individually, they were very dysfunctional as a team.

Some examples of the behaviors that were preventing exceptional results prior to the turn-around are that the Production Manager would come to me complaining that the Office Manager was making delivery commitments that were impossible to meet, along with pricing that he felt would not generate enough profit to achieve the budgeted goals.


The Office Manager would come to me and complain that the Production Manager was inflexible and would say no to most delivery or rush requests. The Office Manager would then come to me and tell me that the Order Entry/Prepress Manager was inflexible on customer proof requests, additionally making the assertion that the Order Entry and Prepress were bottlenecks preventing us from reaching the goal of exceeding the customer’s expectations.

The Order Entry/Prepress Manager would in turn complain to me that Sales/Customer Service were not providing all the needed information which would cause the orders to be sent back to Sale/Customer Service which was causing the delays or perceived bottlenecks.


The Order Entry/Prepress Manager would then complain to me that the press operators were frequently coming in to prepress to get new plates. At that time it was unclear whether it was an operator issue or the materials they were provided. In any event it was slowing the process and increasing cost.


To round out the finger pointing, the Production Manager would come to me and complain that Prepress and Order Entry were making far too many errors which was slowing the process and increasing cost.


The interesting part was that we would have our morning meetings every day, and with the exception of a couple subtle comments these issues were not being brought out in the open. When the complaints were brought to me they would usually ask that I do not mention that they had complained as that may further strain the relationships. I would advise them that we could not resolve the issues if we did not bring them out into an open forum. The one area that the team was aligned was in their response to my recommendations to discuss openly. They would each suddenly decide that their issues were not much of a problem and they would just work with each other individually to resolve their issues. I had a feeling that the issues would continue and the team would remain a group of talented individuals rather than a powerful cohesive unit.


After allowing the managers a couple weeks to make good on their proposals to resolve things on their own I decided it was time to take action.
Most of the issues that had been raised could be resolved with process improvements, and good old fashioned accountability. I could have just as easily taken each of the issues and drafted an SOP for everyone to follow. Experience tells me that the best way to build a team that will function as a team is to have the team resolve their issues as a team. The obvious place to start would be to have a meeting and lay out all the issues, and instruct the team to come back with their recommendations. However I felt there was one simple step that would better position the team to develop some empathy for each other, while improving coverage during vacations. You guessed it-I had each manager spend a week cross-training in the other manager’s department.


The goal was to provide each the opportunity to see how their department impacts others, and provide exposure to the total process. This also can be used as a springboard for succession planning.


During the cross-training exercise every one of the issues were witnessed first hand by the offending department’s manager. It took nearly 2 months to get through all the cross-training. It did not take 2 months to begin reaping the benefits. After the first two weeks, the Office Manager and OE/Prepress Manager had finished their cross-training for each others job. They had actually developed solutions together to streamline the process, and significantly reduce internal and external spoilages.


As they say, “success breeds success”. The Office Manager and the Production Manager were the next pairing. They developed a process to get a quick approval on rush deliveries. The Office Manager gained a much better understanding of the challenges to meet/exceed all of the delivery requirements, and the Production Manager got a chance to see what it was like to deal with the customers first hand. This transformed a manager that was known to be inflexible to one that provides “the best yes you can give”.


The Production Manager and OE/Prepress Manager were the final pairing. They developed a re-burn log for replacing plates to enable them to track root cause, which dramatically reduced the material cost and downtime. This also led to many other SOP’s resulting in fewer errors, reduced lead-time and superior service levels.


The cross-training process improved the communication, and provided an opportunity for the individuals to develop solutions as a team. They were able to discover it was the process-not the people that were causing their grief.


With the exceptional individuals now operating as a powerful team, I published the leadership team rules on the board in the conference room. 1. Check your egos and emotions at the door to the facility. 2. Discuss all issues that impact the customers, facility or company with the team. 3. It’s not personal, it’s business. 4. Consider each member of the team as your number 1 customer.


The process of maintaining a cohesive team requires trust and effort on everyone’s part. Even the best of team’s will hit a bump in the road. Honest and frequent communication will limit the number of bumps the team will encounter.


About the author

Kevin Lombardo
Kevin P. Lombardo, Founder and CEO

Kevin founded Summit Group Partners to support businesses throughout the United States in their quest to accelerate a transformation and achieve sustainable change through strategies of growth, expansion and operational excellence. His passion is to help businesses and executives maximize their potential. Throughout his consulting career, Kevin has formally coached over 25 CEOs and business owners representing 10,000 employees’ globally and nearly $2 billion in revenues and helped them to unlock human potential and shareholder value. With 14 years of direct P&L leadership and over two decades of management and consulting experience in multiple industries Kevin can quickly bring the resources together to make an immediate impact on any organization. Kevin participates on various industry panels and has spoken at corporate and industry events throughout the country on the topic of accelerated sustainable change. Furthermore, he has authored numerous articles on corresponding subjects and has been interviewed by media outlets throughout the country.

Kevin directs all engagements for Summit Group Partners from inception and guides their progress throughout in order to ensure consistency and efficiency in all services delivered. He also manages client relationships and develops optimum solutions tailored for each client’s specific need. He has extensive experience assisting both healthy and distressed companies with M&A transaction leadership, revenue growth, operational improvements, restructuring debt, negotiating with creditors and unions along with locating financing.

Prior to forming Summit Group Partners, Kevin built two nationally renowned consulting practices from 2004 through 2010. Kevin has held numerous senior executive positions including CEO, President, CRO, EVP and CFO of publicly traded, privately held, Fortune 500 and private equity led businesses. Kevin has an extensive background in business leadership, strategic planning, growing revenue, profits and shareholder value of numerous businesses, executive development, entrepreneurship and turnaround management. As CEO of a $300 million dollar supplier of print services, Kevin led the transformation from a stale business model to a growth engine for the parent company, achieving revenue growth of 7% after multiple years of decline, reaching and sustaining the number one market share position and supporting the stock price increase of 300% within 15 months of taking the leadership role. He has held the position of CRO multiple times and has three times led businesses through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process with each company successfully emerging with a confirmed plan of reorganization. He has led and executed the management of the merger, acquisition, divestiture and integration of over two dozen businesses with total transaction value in excess of $1.5 billion. Kevin received both his BS and MBA from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In addition, he holds a graduate certificate from Cornell University in Human Resource Management.


Sr Director Distribution Services

How true this comment you made is; "The goal was to provide each the opportunity to see how their department impacts others, and provide exposure to the total process. This also can be used as a springboard for succession planning." I have found that when you really put yourself in each others shoes and sincerely understand the impact each plays, there are usually improvements in how each reacts and works with each other going forward.

Good stuff, thanks for sharing!

Thursday, 08 September 2011
VP, Operations

Thanks for the comments. The team generated great solutions and results annually as a result of the cross-training exercise. A couple of the individuals have taken on more significant positions in the company as a direct result of broadening their view of the total operation.

Friday, 16 September 2011


Thursday, 08 September 2011
The Peter Haworth Consultancy

I took on an assignment where the team I inherited was so dysfunctional it looked impossible at first sight that anything could be done with them. The team was behaving like kindergarden infants. I called a board room meeting and sat everyone on the imaginary river bank, I pulled alongside the bank and announced the direction and speed at which the boat would be travelling. I invited all those who were quite comfortable with the direction and speed of the boat to get on board and take an oar. Those who did not wish to join the voyage should return home or elsewhere. I then informed the crew who had joined me that if anyone was found to be rowing against the direction, they had better be able to swim. Everyone joined the crew, no one got wet and the company is now doing extremely well several years later.

Monday, 12 September 2011
VP, Operations

Sometimes this is the only approach that will get the attention of the group. It is amazing to see how often adults revert back to children in a business environment. I have used the approach you mentioned in your comment with two different results. In one case it got everyones attention, and the team knew it was sink or swin. In the second case it worked initially until they felt the heat was off....and then the negative behaviors started to surface again. Unfortunately someone had to lose their job for the others to permanently become adults. The primary reason I took the cross-training approach with the group in the blog was due to the fact that all of the managers were the best I had seen in their respective areas. I was not at a point where I was ready to terminate if they chose not to row the right direction. I will say that I would have reached that point if plan A had failed.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Great case study.

"Good things happen when people communicate".

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

It is such a simple concept for people to communicate, but sometimes ego's get in the way of common sense. Some people forget what communnication means.....they can talk all day long, but have lost the art of listening.

Friday, 16 September 2011
Managing Partner

Since 1993, we have been using a team building game to get at some of these issues in workshops. The goal of the game is, "To mine as much gold as WE can" and the goal of the game is to maximize ROI. The Expedition Leader provides the resources (a grub stake), the parameters, the mission / goals, and is thus obviously looking for the best total return from the group. The Expedition Leader's expressed role is, "To help teams be successful."

What we often find is that tabletops will [b]choose[/b to compete rather than collaborate and the game is leveraged on the sharing of information and resources between tables. What we get is something called, "My Team, My Team, My Team" behavior, which I illustrate graphically with a cartoon and which I demonstrate with measured results. (One game delivered in Switzerland by a trainer showed them mining only 50% of the gold that they could have mined if they had planned better and collaborated more!).

My belief is that if we can focus on choices and behavior, and share measured results and clear alternatives for future behavior in the workplace, we can generate the possibility of change.

In a past life, I was senior VP operations of a large retail firm and we saw many examples of the stores competing rather than sharing best practices. I changed the role of our District Managers from "basic store accountability stuff" to the role of facilitators and coordinators and we generated a strong sense of shared ownership in the overall success of the company through a 401K - ESOP program. We were small enough (100+ stores and $100MM in sales) that the improvements could be seen in the measured results (and eventually in the stock price). We reduced store manager turnover 500% and had similar results with employee turnover (the new hires were not immediately made Store Managers anymore!). Customer service and suggestive selling improved.

Dysfunctional teams need to see that they are dysfunctional and also have the support of senior management to choose from some new considered alternatives. Having the goals and objectives and missions and expectations made clearer is also useful. And sometimes, by creating a new "common enemy," we can refocus effort on the outside rather than the inside competitors.

Change is about Choice, and Choice is about having more potential alternative behaviors available.


Friday, 11 November 2011
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Summit Group Blog


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