A close friend of mine has twice expressed frustration in working on teams that are not focused. She has already switched teams once but again finds herself in a situation where she wants to switch teams again.

The reason she considers them unfocused is because they "laugh and joke a lot during meetings", which the manager is fine with, along with a few unknown other reasons as to why they "don't take their work seriously".

The thing is, this opinion is entirely new to me and directly contrasts with my own personal opinion which is - life is short, enjoy work, have a laugh, and as long as the work gets done then there aren't any problems. Even if delivery is a little behind, it's better that than an unhappy team who eventually leaves.

My question revolves around some form of solution to the situation. I am concerned that she will keep jumping teams and ruining a potentially good thing. Is this an entirely opinion-based problem or is this something that needs to be solved on a team level? My opinion on this is that if the manager is fine with it, she should learn to be also. Is it realistic to expect more focus from the rest of the team?

Basically - what can I do to help her help herself?

  • 4
    Sounds like this person is not a great fit for your company or team culture. So them leaving would actually be best. – Trevor D Mar 22 at 20:33
  • 4
    Are they (the team) able to complete their tasks and meet their deadlines? – sf02 Mar 22 at 20:35
  • @JoeStrazzere I'd make that a little depending on how much time the joking time makes up of the whole meeting. If a lot of time is wasted with off-topic talk, I could understand the "unfocused" assessment. Even then I agree the main issue is a work culture clash, even if they are objectively unfocused but everyone is fine with it, e.g. because the deadlines reflect that and it's "okay" for them to be a little slower than they could be - or because everyone just is an hour longer at work than they needed to because they have more "break time" mixed in. – Frank Hopkins Mar 25 at 0:35


Is this an entirely opinion-based problem


or is this something that needs to be solved on a team level

Also yes.

Unless you're in a very privileged position, you don't get to pick your team. The days of teams being cherry picked for a shopping list of so-called "desirable" personality traits are thankfully long gone, and it is accepted that different personalities make teams.

So with regards to your friend's problem and referencing my responses at the top of the answer:

Yes, this is an opinion based problem. There will be people who drift through their career seemingly doing very little work and always having a laugh and at the other extreme there will be work horses who work long hours and chat and socialise very little. Your friend is of the opinion that a team members should behave in a certain way which is perfectly understandable, but the KPI of any team is not necessarily behaviour, but results. Clearly the manager is not of the view that a close knit team having a laugh is affecting output otherwise something would be done about it.

If the team isn't performing then yes, something should absolutely be done at the managerial level, but this is a call for the manager. It is human nature to want team members to behave like us and hold the same values but it is somewhat naive IMHO to expect this to be the case in every team you come across.

  • It might also be that the team is performing, because everyone just stays a bit longer to make up for time wasted having fun, but that is not an option for OP's friend as she may prefer to keep her time in the office at the required minimum. It still needs to be solved within the team, but it's an additional aspect that would give her a good reason to expect more professional behaviour respecting her time with respect to processes that directly affect her, in contrast to her just wanting everyone to act like her for its own sake. – Frank Hopkins Mar 25 at 0:39

Regarding your friend's situation, I started off in the a similar state where I wanted more efficiency from the team and less joking around. But as I got older, moved around companies and ended up in a cut-throat unicorn-wannabe startup, I realized the errors of my ways.

At the startup, I outputted work at my maximum efficiency, but the more I outputted the more the startup wanted out of me. I didn't get to enjoy a lot of the socializing aspects of the startup, because I was too busy outputting a ton of work. I ended up gaining a ton of weight, burning out and being generally miserable. I switched companies, but I also switch mentalities. It's okay to take the time to make jokes and go out to lunch with people, it makes work much less stressful and more fun.

At the end of the day, maximizing each individual's output isn't the most important thing, because you don't want to burn out your workers. As long as we get the job done, sacrificing some time to add a few jokes in a meeting or ask how everyone's weekend was is worth it.


It sounds like she may need to fashion herself into a champion of cultural change. Ordinarily, this is something you hope the leadership does, but there's nothing to stop anyone from trying. She just needs to inspire the team with a compelling vision; such as, emphasizing how much better off everyone could be if they could grow the company or finish project "X". Or about the impact they could make on the world if they could scale faster. (I know nothing about the actual organization or product, so just throwing out examples.) It can help to understand each team member's individual motivations. She could have a chat with each of them individually and ask them questions like: what do you really love about working here? What do you especially dislike? What kind of work really gets you excited about coming to work? Describe your ideal day. etc.

Then she could identify the changes some aspects of the current culture which is holding them back--such as unfocused, inefficient meetings, lack of prepared agendas for meetings, lack of a "scribe" or note-taker who documents important decisions for the team, and anything else. She could point out the high-cost of meetings: make a gustimate average of everyone's hourly wage and multiply it by the meeting time to show just how expensive a meeting can be. Increase it by 30% to account for benefits.

Then she could present solutions, such as circulating an agenda before meetings so people can prepare, starting a timer (google TimeTimer), standing meetings, assigning a scribe, etc. Or better: call a design thinking session so that everyone has some buy-in (see Google's "Sprint" book).

Or should could present such a plan to her boss. As a boss myself I love it when people bring me solutions (not just problems).

Turning around a toxic company culture is hard work, but it's not impossible.

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