Zombie team management: team health check-list

IMG_5205I believe that Project manager is here, on this planet, not only for the projects to be delivered in time and on budget. On of the most important things for the Project managers is to care about their teams. In software development I always worked so close with the teams, that I couldn’t imagine I can avoid supporting teams health, mood and motivation.
So, let’s talk about monitoring your team health, so you can see the signs of the death coming or any feed back of the system on your actions. By the way, some Project managers prefer to work with zombie teams, as they are so easy to control. I am not judging, so you can use the check-list the both ways – to prevent your team becoming a zombie team and to make you team a zombie team.

Here is the ideal Zombie team:

1) No atmosphere of freedom

Try to remember your meetings. Can you speak openly during the meetings or you need to wait till it ends and discuss “real things” only at the kitchen? Is there talking behind backs?
If so, that is too bad, dear Project Manager. It means that there is no atmosphere of freedom. What about ideas? Can your team members talk about all, even the most crazy ideas?

Everyone’s voice should be heard, spoken, and valued. All the company community should have the commitment to making this happen and you, as the Project Manager, should be one of the leaders if this.

2) No common and clear goals

Walk in and ask any of the team member why he is here? What they are working on now? The person is too frustrated to give you he answer or answer something about “I am here because i am paid to be here”? You, as the Project Manager is the one to ensure that everyone in the team understand’s the common goals, knows where the company is going and have vision of the plans.

3) Bullshit level is high

Do the members of the team know something about the company values and culture? How many sarcastic jokes you hear, is the cynicism common for the team members? How often do you hear “It can’t be helped”?

You, as the PM, should be the one who lives the culture and helps the teams to get it and use as the guidance of the decisions.  If there is no any culture or values, what sticks you all together? Just salary? So you are 100% zombie team.

4) Manager is an idiot

If you team never told you your are NOT an idiot, they probably think you are. Unless you have the atmosphere of freedom (see item 1) and they already informed you about this fact.
In our post-soviet countries we are used to the fact that everyone thinks that other one is an idiot – employees think that their boss is and idiot, the boss have the same opinion about the employees. I am not sure if this is so common for the local companies,  but if you are outsourcing to one of the countries I mentioned – you can see such an attitude. Team members can spend several hours a day discussing their boss and his decisions, but not tell him he is wrong(even if they are sure there won’t be any punishment for that) 🙂

5) No trust, team members do not have confidence in each other skills

Can you team members rely on each other? Is there a spirit of trust?

About PM specifically: Do you delegate people something or you prefer the total control? Totally controlled zombies welcome you! And after that you wait they’ll bring you some ideas?

6) Witch hunting and regular public burnings of the guilty one

When smth fails, what is the reaction – do they try to find the guilty one or focusing on fixing it?
If you can see the creative problem-solving, not the witch hunting, if brainstormings are productive, everyone wants to contribute – you are on the safe side. One of the most exciting results of positive collaboration is the emergence of new ideas.

7) Team members are not proud of their work

Do they use the applications they created? Do they have these applications at least installed on their iPhones? Can you come across one of the developers showing other developers from other teams some UI element or the animation he likes the most saying “I did this, guys, look how smooth it works!”
If the team is not proud of their work there can be several reasons. I can come up with: poor quality standards, ideas are not welcomed, PM just pushes developers to make some new features or changes, even if developers think they are ridiculous. Then the team don’t feel that they “own” the product – it is creates by their hands but they felt themselves “tools” to perform work in the hands of client/PM.

8) Friday celebration

There is nothing bad in welcoming Friday, as everyone loves weekend. But when your team members do not want to get up in the morning, when they are the first to leave the office in the end of the day – you are in trouble.  By the way, do you still working 9am to 5pm?
I don’t think developers should overtime all the time or spend a lot of time at the work, but if your environment is really toxic, they’ll count minutes to the end of the day. I worked in one of the companies where I felt so discouraged, that I spent a lot of time in the bathroom reading facebook on my phone – just to hide from everything)

9) Team can’t make commitments or commitments are made not by the team

If you are the one to come to the team and happily say “Guys, we have the new project! Our deadline is set to March 1. Here is the list of features” – you are the one to blame.
Team can be too afraid to make commitments or they just lost the last hope, as no one points attention to their commitments – PM can reduce the estimation twice by himself.

10) Team does not feel responsible

Probably, because PM didn’t give them any responsibility. All the decisions are made not by the team. They are just the great(or not so great) production line, which receives the requirements descriptions and design as the input and produces code as the output.


Do you often hear “I could not do this, as the person A was unavailable/I din’t have a link/permission/software/ etc?”

I think that there are not so many born “not responsible” and “careless” developers. We, managers, make them to be this way. They get adapted to the toxic environment and learn that it is the best way to survive in it.

11) Changes are not welcomed

Real zombie team does not welcome any changes. As they are already dead and do not need any changes 🙂


4 thoughts on “Zombie team management: team health check-list

    1. I already did that, as we used to work in one company, so I know both him and his project manager 🙂 and it was not me 🙂
      I never think of myself as a brilliant one in any case 🙂 If I was brilliant I won’t become a project manager, I remained developer :))))

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s