Case Study: A Dysfunctional Team

© Peter Atkinson
July, 2006

Two senior executives M and R decide to work on a new business project together. Their offices are in different locations, approximately 20 miles apart. M has experience of the market place and whereas R has none he has experience of setting up information systems and business processes. There is an obvious core activity but it is agreed that there should be the flexibility to move into new areas as opportunities present themselves.

M is busy with several other responsibilities. R has a clear diary so works on the project intensively to build infrastructure. At the beginning they have regular meetings but as the workload increases meetings become infrequent.

M has difficulty in discussing strategy. He makes pronouncements about what should be done but does not seem capable of absorbing new ideas. He continually repeats that he has experience but R feels that this means he is merely repeating formulas and procedures that he learned some time ago while working with competitors.

M has the marketing role. The business is to be got off the ground by face-to-face presentations to clients who may be prepared to offer the product. M insists that he knows all there is to know about this market place. However, as R's knowledge of this field develops R begins to voice disquiet at the quality of the clients and is doubtful about their ability to sell the product in significant quantity. R notices that although M is a convincing speaker, he rarely listens.

R successfully develops an infrastructure of a web site, databases, documents and processes that run smoothly and at a minimal cost. At times when there is a backlog of new business meetings, R also makes new business presentations. There is no difference between R and Mís conversion rates.

M announces that the project should include a publication and that he has someone, C, in mind who could edit it. After three months C says that she cannot work on the project because she does not understand what kind of publication is required.

M announces that the team needs new help because of the work load. He brings in a new member of staff, S, to help part-time with the marketing. S has worked in a subordinate role to M in the past. S meets with M once a week at his office.

A number of customer organisations are signed up and R's workload increases. R resists asking for help until the business is proved because he is concerned about escalating costs. R is also concerned about the lack of a plan.

During the launch period, M insists that further help is required and brings in another part-time team member H. She also has a marketing background. Although her role mostly falls into the area looked after by R she regularly visits Mís office but R finds it difficult to contact her - often she fails to return phone calls or answer emails.

Because of time and geographical constraints team meetings become a rarity. In any case, R feels frustrated by meetings with M since strategic matters are not discussed. R is also frustrated that M does not fully reply to his emails.

At the end of the launch period the results are disappointing with sales at one third of target. M claims that R set the target without consulting him and that the launch has been a success.

M announces that a further part-time team member is required to look after quality and produces a job description that states that this person should report to him.

At subsequent meetings R insists that the launch has been a failure and he points out that the amount of business being generated is does not cover the escalating costs of the operation. R criticises M's use of time saying that often the things he does have no stated objective and do not achieve anything. R also criticises Mís use of funds saying that M spends money on things that look good rather than because of their usefulness. R suggests that the focus of the business so far has been on an unprofitable market place and suggests how the focus could be changed, without incurring huge costs, to a potentially more profitable market. However, the team that has been assembled so far has experience of the current market but none of the new market which is why R did not want to take on the team members that M insisted on in the first place.

M counters that R is Ďinterfering and negative' with no real alternatives to offer; that R has overstated his contribution to the project and that the marketing role is far more important than the operations role in any case. A new senior executive is brought in to keep the peace and M is able to say that the other three members of the team are on his side.

Soon afterwards R leaves the team and the company altogether.


Discussion Topics

  1. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test shows M to have personality type ESFJ and R to have personality type INTJ. Is this a potentially good combination to form the nucleus of a team?
  2. Using a traits model of leadership, identify the weaknesses that M and R have as leaders.
  3. What are the characteristics of virtual teams and what is there about this one that illustrates how virtual teams may become dysfunctional?