10 Strategies for Fixing a Broken Team

December 7, 2011

Every so often leaders will encounter a situation in which their team is not meeting the goals of the organization or simply not performing at the highest levels. This can come about because of apathy, laziness, incongruent expectations, and burnout.

Here are 10 strategies for getting your team back on track:

1. Revisit Goals, Mission, and Vision – Sometimes everyone needs a reminder to know where we’re heading. Many times we can get caught up in the day-to-day of “tasky” behaviors and even issues unrelated to the job and forgot what our organization truly stands for and what we aim to accomplish. Print out a copy of the goals, mission, and vision of the organization and share it with everyone. Have a conversation related to what these areas mean to you, what it means to your team members, and how you can accomplish them together. 

2. Reestablish Expectations with Team Members – As is the case with #1 (i.e., Revisit Goals, Mission, and Vision), meeting with each team member to reestablish and reinforce your expectations with them is crucial. This will put you on equal ground and common understanding related to what is expected and can even spark new excitement. However, if someone’s expectations are vastly incongruent with the overall mission and vision of the organization, this would be the time to tactfully coach them out of their position. My good friend Dawn Lennon wrote a guest blog post called “Putting an End to Slackers,” which I highly recommend that you read.

3. Create a Formal Reward Structure – Everyone likes to be recognized for their hard work and contributions to the organization. Having an objective reward system can help set the expectation that reaching certain goals comes with certain “prizes or privileges.” This can also create a sense of collegial competition among your group. Keep in mind that a formal reward structure should not take place of simple “pats on the back” and other simple and cost-free means of recognizing your team members.

4. Build in Team Development Activities – Create purposeful activities for your group. This can be anything from team-building exercises and training activities to volunteering in the community and even simply taking them out for a meal. Do not have your team members participate in ice-breakers just for the sake of doing ice-breakers. Have a purpose behind every activity that you present (i.e., increased communication, conflict resolution, effective teamwork, etc.) rather than doing something haphazardly. 

5. Eliminate or Fix Processes that are Unneeded – Work for work’s sake can kill confidence in your members and add to poor team morale. If a task or process does not add value to the organization, why are you doing it? If it does not advance your mission or vision, get rid of it.  

6. Remove Complainers, Naysayers, and Troublemakers – I once read a statement that rings very true when it comes to team cohesion: “Strike the shepherd and the flock will scatter.” This can simply be presented as a conversation similar to #2 (i.e., Reestablish expectations) or a more direct approach by removing individuals from the group. And yes, you can fire volunteers! Bad attitudes spread like wildfire so deal with this swiftly.

7. Incite Excitement – People take a part in what they help to create. Writer Jeff Jarvis once wrote, “Tap into people’s passions and they’ll about work for free!” This stands true for your team. Find out their skills and strengths and get them involved in activities and projects within the organization that will complement their passions. Keep it fun.

8. Check Yourself – No one is perfect, including you. Take a step back and evaluate what you are doing and what you may be able to do better to help your team. Being in charge is not easy. Assess your own strengths and areas you can improve upon in order to “fix” your team.

9. Take a Break – Sometimes everyone, including you, needs a brief “time out” in order to refresh. Purposely create time off or a short lull in the action to regroup rather than constantly “hitting problems over the head.” Time off between semesters or quarters can add a much needed respite for reflection.  

10. Seek Advice – Talk with your supervisor, a mentor, or trusted colleagues and get advice. Read books and blogs about leadership and management. Additionally, realize that the problem did not happen overnight so trying to solve it will not occur overnight either.

What are some strategies that you have utilized to fix a broken team that may have been under your leadership?

All of those who share a comment will enter into a raffle to win a “Leadership Discussion Cards” activity kit from Student Life Consultants. The raffle will occur on 12/14/11 at 12pm and the winner will be announced via Twitter @studentlifeguru and through this post’s comments. 

How to Avoid Creating Resident Assistant Boot Camp

July 21, 2011

With August right around the corner, many of us in Housing and Residence Life are in the process of developing our fall training for our resident assistant staffers. While this is generally a fun and exciting time, it can also be a very brutally intensive experience for many given that it can occur in a “short aggressive period of time” as my one close colleagues put it perfectly (@Crystal_N_Hoser). Institutional training traditions are passed down from generation to generation of professional staffers, and unfortunately, many of these training practices can actually be counter-productive. I would like to offer some successful practices that have worked for me when training my own staffers.

TRAINING STARTS WITH THE HIRING PROCESS: You can minimize (*not eliminate*) the need to cover basic topics (e.g., campus resources and campus departments orientation) by hiring student leaders that already have a strong knowledge of the institution and the various services available to students on campus. Simple campus resource quizzes can actually be used as another assessment tool during the selection process in addition to what you already do. Additionally, many human resource policies and expectations can and should be communicated before and directly after an RA is hired. In this regard, they know exactly what is expected up front (typically occuring in late spring) rather than them hearing a familiar, “We will go over that during training in August.” Granted, expectations should be revisited again during training at some point, but they do not necessarily have to be part of a lengthy session.

BE MINDFUL OF THE LENGTH OF THE WORK DAY AND WEEK: This is where I feel that many Residence Life departments can and do go overboard. It’s generally seen as a badge of courage to go through a “Hell Week” of sorts starting at 8 or 9 AM every day and going through 10 PM or later. Typical schedules I have seen (and have been a part of) go like this: breakfast, training, lunch, training, dinner, activity, staff meeting, bulletin boards, and, finally, bed. Rinse and repeat (for 7+ days straight). This is a tiring regiment that, again, can be more detrimental than productive. Burning our student staffers out prior to the actual move-in can set the stage for further problems throughout the semester.

ASK YOURSELF – WHY ARE WE DOING THIS: If you do not have a strong answer for every activity and session that you are doing, then you may want to consider eliminating it from the training schedule. “Just because” or “We have to fill the schedule” are NOT good answers as to why you are including something for training. Have a reason for including every training session and activity in your schedule.

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO COVER EVERY TOPIC: Think of training like a college class. You cannot learn everything about a particular subject in the course of one semester. Typically you will learn major themes about a subject, but not every topic and detail within that subject. You should use this same philosophy when designing RA training. Trying to pack everything in your training schedule related to policies and procedures, student conduct, programming, roommate conflicts, ethics, mental health issues, and everything else related to Residence Life is simply too much. Cover the topics that your staffers will need the most knowledge about for the first six weeks. Cover additional topics during staff meetings and staff development activities. Training should be an on-going, year-long process.

TREAT YOUR RETURNERS / SENIOR LEVEL RA’s WITH REVERANCE: 2nd year and subsequent year returners going through the same process every year can be torture. Mix it up for them; get them involved in helping or develop advanced topics for them. You could also bring them back a day or two after all the new staffers have already covered the basic topics (this could also save you some money as you wouldn’t have to feed them all).

ELIMINATE OR REDESIGN “BEHIND CLOSED DOORS” ACTIVITIES: Role-playing type activities that new staffers go through to practice confronting hall violations (e.g., noise, alcohol, marijuana, domestic dispute) can be easily perceived as a mild form of hazing. It seems to be a badge of courage for a returning RA to role play in over-the-top situations that underhandedly try to stump the new RA’s trying to respond to the issue. However, these type of role playing sessions need to be designed as a teaching tool rather than an abusive right of passage. If you choose to include this type of training activity, create scenarios that are realistic and ends up being a positive learning opportunity for the new staffers. To save time and extensive planning, you can also include written case studies of varying difficulty that everyone can work on. Case study activities can be better supervised in one location rather than allowing the paraprofessional staff to control the activity throughout the halls where problems can arise.

Best wishes with your fall training! As always, I am willing to help you brainstorm ideas and offer advice.

What do college gambling and basketball have in common?

April 14, 2011

While gambling can be fun if you’re of legal age, it’s not a risk-free activity. For some college students, gambling for fun can turn into a serious problem and have a negative impact on their lives.

CollegeGambling.org was developed by the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) as a tool to help current and prospective students, campus administrators, campus health professionals and parents address gambling and gambling-related harms on campus. This site provides resources to help you learn more about this issue and how to get help if you need it.

They’ve even created an fun interactive quiz. Click HERE to try it out.

CollegeGambling.org builds on the recommendations of the Task Force on College Gambling Policies, which can provide your school with a roadmap for reducing gambling among students and enabling those who are struggling with addiction to participate more fully in college life. View the Task Force’s “Call to Action” report.

For more information, check out: http://www.collegegambling.org/

Reflecting on the Past

March 29, 2011

A Journey of Self-Reflection

What pops into your mind when I say the University of California at Berkley?  Maybe images of hippies in  the late 1960’s wearing bell bottoms and strumming their guitars on the lawn between classes.  Or maybe you are a reader of the Student Life Guru Blog that has actually been UC Berkley and know that stereotype is long extinct. 

Take a look at this modern version of UC Berkley: http://bit.ly/eHiIlk (access date 3/29/2011.)  

Now gaze at this historical image of UC Berkley from 1907:  http://1.usa.gov/hZInBp  (access date 3/29/2011.)

The physical differences are both stunning and obvious.  Just like UC Berkley, in one hundred years a lot has changed on campuses all over the country.  Has the essence or mission of colleges and universities changed drastically in the last century?  Examine these photos again in terms of your own role at your college or university.

  • In my current position, what would my role to students be in 1911?
  • Do you think your current job would be vastly different in the past then it is now and how?
  • What sorts of interactions would you have with students in the early 1900’s?
  • How do you think students would perceive you one hundred years ago as their leader/mentor?
  • Do you think your mission towards students is different then your current mission? How? Why?

Maybe after some reflection you feel glad that you can happily tweet your staff to invite them to an impromptu cup of coffee for all their hard work or maybe like a colleague of yours in the distant past you put pen-to-paper and draft a glowing letter of thanks for your exceptional staffer. 

Has the mission, developing students and leaders, changed dramatically in one hundred years or is student development the same but the methods different?


The 1907 image of the University of California at Berkley, along with 238 breathtaking panoramic views of colleges in the early 1900’s, are available in the Digital Collections of the Library of Congress (access date 3/29/2011.)  You just might be able to find an image of your school there! (Panoramic Photographs access date 3/29/2011.) You must actually click on college campuses embedded in the paragraph.

Current photos of UC Berkley are available on their website: http://www.berkeley.edu/photos/campus/ (access date 3/29/2011.)

Student Affairs & Graduate School: A Brief “How-To”

October 26, 2010

I remember the day I decided to pursue a career in student affairs as if it was yesterday. I was sitting in my apartment and texting back and forth with my supervisor. He said he was going to Penn State University in the coming days to register for dissertation classes and to speak with his advisor. He asked if I wanted to go and talk with the chair of the master’s program to see if this would be a career I would be interested in.

Prior to this conversation, I had my life planned out. I was going to teach, become a principal, earn a doctorate, and become a superintendent.

I thought about my experiences as a RA, student government member, and Student Trustee. I really enjoyed my experience at Bloomsburg University, but was this something I wanted to make into a career?

After speaking with the program chair and a bit more with my supervisor, I decided to apply to graduate school. After a two-month rat race of researching schools, registering for the GRE and speaking with advisors and professors, I submitted application materials to schools. After several interviews and campus visits, I accepted an offer from Bowling Green State University. There I would have a two-year assistantship as a Graduate Hall Director in the Office of Residence Life.

As I think back to my journey from undergrad to graduate school, I want to offer advice for those considering going to grad school for a master’s in student affairs.

  • Know thyself – I took a chance on a new career path and it has been rewarding. However, graduate school and student affairs are not for everyone. Graduate school should not be an avenue to delay “the real world” (for those going from undergrad straight to grad school). Likewise, viewing student affairs as an extension of undergrad or to “relive the best days” are two poisonous thoughts. Going into student affairs is a commitment to helping college students develop the necessary skills to be successful and mature adults.
  • Start early – My journey was unique. I did not make a decision until the end of September that graduate school was my next step. As a result, I rushed through certain steps and did not get the recommended preparation time for the GRE. Give yourself enough time to make correct decisions on how many and which schools to submit applications, who to ask for recommendations, drafting application essays, and proper preparation for the GRE.
  • Be prepared to get and give rejection – One of the key words you will hear on your search is “fit.” Just as schools are considering you, you have to consider the institution, program, and location. I interviewed with several schools (who accepted me into their program), but I felt it was not the best “fit” for me. Likewise, I was rejected from many programs where I thought I had a good “fit.” I learned to be honest with each school through the process. If you feel it is not a good fit, be open and honest with the department/program chair.
  • Patience – Everyone works with deadlines. Every school has a different deadline date, review date, and interview date(s). Being patient and trusting the process is all part of the application process.
  • M.A., M.S., or M.Ed.? The difference between the types of degrees depends on whom you ask. Traditionally, the M.A. is viewed as a generalist degree; having transferrable skills and prepares one for a variety of jobs. The M.S. is viewed as a degree with one specific focus such as microbiology or organic chemistry. The M.Ed. is rooted in educational disciplines such as guidance counseling, curriculum & instruction, or instructional technology. Whatever the type of degree it is, it will vary institution to institution, and in most instances, you will find answers in the program curriculum guide.
  • Type of Program – When researching student affairs graduate programs you will come across a variety of program names. Some of the more common program names include College Student Personnel (CSP), Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA), Educational Leadership with a focus in Higher Education, and Higher Education Administration (HEA). While these names sound similar, their functions can be different. Some programs are student development focused while others are geared towards the administration within student affairs and/or higher education in general.

Below are two excellent web resources you can use when considering graduate schools for student affairs:

American College Personnel Association’s Directory of Graduate Programs

National Association of Student Personnel Administrator’s Graduate Program Directory

Steve Knepp (@stevenknepp) is currently finishing his first year as a full-time professional in higher education. His areas of interest include residence life, student government, and student leadership development. Steve earned his B.S. in Elementary Education from Bloomsburg University and his M.A. in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University. His hobbies include camping, golf, and traveling. You can follow Steve on his blog at http://steve0709.wordpress.com

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