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Jethro Larson
Jethro Larson

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5 tips for creating dysfunctional teams

There are so many blog articles showing how to make teams more effective but what if you need your team or organization to go belly-up or grind productivity to a halt? This guide will give you concrete strategies for making sure that success is a distant memory.

1. Find the Weakest Links

Whenever something goes wrong make sure that one individual receives a majority of the blame. That person should be one of the individual contributors. While it may seem more effective to blame a manager for the mistakes of their team as that could cause loss of faith in management, the effect of dragging a worker through the coals will be more widespread. Quickly workers will learn that mistakes aren't learning opportunities but career-destroying disasters that they must protect themselves from at all costs. Workers also learn that their managers don't have their back when mistakes happen no worry there.

Within a couple sprints everyone will be covering their asses, and spending a lot of time making sure everyone knows how careful and productive they are. They'll also jump at the smallest provocation to disclaim responsibility for any minor infraction and will sabotage each other to avoid the Eye of Sauron.

2. Make Strong Commitments

One of the best ways to harm a team long term is to develop a crunch-culture and the best way to do that is to make time-bound promises to stakeholders before work has even begun. Commit to public demos at industry conferences, set drop-dead dates that really mean something. Make plans that fully utilize all your available funding so that the only way that the team even partially succeeds is by everything going impossibly perfect or by working hellacious overtime.

When the team starts getting progress back into green make sure to set "stretch goals" that affect management bonuses to keep that heat cranked.

3. Reward the Heroes

This one is unintuitive but works really well. You may think that people that are super-smart and working crazy hours to bail the team out of near-miss disasters are your worst enemy, but remember that your goal is to prevent sustained engineering. Lavish praise and bonuses on these champions and everyone else will realize that success doesn't come from sustainable practices but from letting things fall apart and clawing a janky success from the jaws of defeat.

4. Make the Data Work for You

Even though data-driven decision-making is a hallmark of effective organizations, all you have to do to flip this around is massage the data a little. You'll find with very little effort that with careful analysis and omission you can justify any claim or project you want to. To pull this off however you need to hoard your data and only give others the graphs that you curate. An alternative approach is cast doubt on any existing metrics you don't like. When your audience is confused that's the perfect place to insert your opinion. Then everyone in the room will fight over whose opinion is right and your job is done.

5. Make the Workplace Competitive

This approach is easy to defend as being based on Charles Darwin's natural selection. Take your workforce and separate it into as many small groups as you can, and make the org tree really deep. Then have have competition reign at every level. ICs should compete with each other for fixed bonuses and promotions. Managers should compete with each other for headcount and be paid relative to the number of people working for them so they're encouraged to scale their teams massively. Project managers have to fight for schedule time and development resources for every project. Make sure that everyone learns that the best way to succeed is to take the biggest slice of the pie.

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