Refactoring Dysfunctional Teams
My workshop at XPDay was called "Refactoring dysfunctional teams"*. The premise was to explore some of the organisational beliefs and norms underlying Conway's Law (that dysfunctional teams produce dysfunctional products). I have heard people discuss dysfunctional behaviour without considering the causes of that behaviour, and I wanted to think about what those causes might be in practice.
My premise was that many of the causes of dysfunctional behaviour are organisational and not specific to individuals (not a novel concept I know, e.g. Systems Thinking covers this ground more deeply). For instance the belief that people on late projects will be punished fosters the attitude that "we don't have time to do it properly", and dysfunctional behaviour follows from there. Unfortunately the session was time constrained, and although a lot of causes and symptoms of dysfunctional behaviour were identified there was not enough time for brainstorming solutions.
Personally I think that considering my own behaviour is one of the most appropriate places to start addressing team dysfunction. Is my action or inaction tacitly supporting organisational norms that I disagree with? Am I behaving in a congruent fashion or not? What can I say or do (calmly!) that would make the situation feel more comfortable? If I consider questions like these, and through my example persuade others to do so too, then gradually we can affect the team's dysfunctional behaviour.
*As several people pointed out this is an inappropriate use of the word refactoring. Refactoring is concerned with behaviour preserving transformations and in the case of a dysfunctional team you probably want to change the behaviour, not preserve it. With hindsight "Understanding dysfunctional teams" would have been a better title.