A framework for resetting a toxic teamFeatured

Some years back, I found myself working with a marketing team that was on a collision course. Nearly all the functional heads — product marketing, corporate marketing, media relations, design — were new to their roles. Some were new to the company.

There was no clear hierarchy. The chief marketing officer who had brought the team together had no stomach for being the top dog. Every project, it seemed, led to a new struggle for dominance. Going to work each day was like venturing into a very aggressive dog park.

The heads and their team members were friendly, and they wanted to play together. But someone would inevitably start growling, and then there would be a fight. This continued for a few months until, finally, the heads sat down together. I don’t know the catalyst, and I never found out the exact details. (Sometimes knowing less is better.) Metaphorically, I suppose someone had had an ear ripped off. Whatever the case, everyone agreed they felt miserable.

One of the heads had spent time at Intuit. He suggested we try out the DACI framework. DACI is a simple decision-making model. It assumes that every project has a driver, an approver, many contributors, and a number of “informed” people whose work will be affected and who need to be kept in the loop.

There are various ways to implement the DACI (pronounced daisy). Our way was to have the driver play the role of the project manager. So, if a product was being launched by product marketing, the product marketer would be the driver. They would work with various contributors — a content writer creating a blog post, a designer creating a web page, the product team, a PR manager, and the campaigns manager. The driver would collect the assets, make suggestions for changes or tweaks, and obtain final approvals from the head of product and marketing vice president.

The effect of the DACI on our team was magical. A transparent decision-making model eliminated 90 percent of the toxic politicking that had infected our organization. People stopped fighting and started collaborating. They began rebuilding interpersonal relationships.The success of the DACI was partly because the team was tired of office combat. People wanted to come to work without having to constantly watch their backs. They yearned for the camaraderie they had experienced in other, healthier environments. They were highly motivated to make the DACI work.

I recently suggested the DACI to a friend leading engineering at a very small company. He dismissed it, saying that he had tried it and found the overhead was too high. This might be true for small teams. And the DACI might not be necessary for larger teams that have grown more organically with clear role definition.

But if you find yourself in a group of strong personalities who have been thrown together to complete a project, a tool like DACI can be a godsend.

There is only one obstacle, and it is a fairly big one: you will have to decide as a group to adopt it. If you propose a DACI and meet resistance, you may need to sit back and watch the wrestling matches. At some point, someone will say uncle. When that happens, having the DACI in your back pocket can help get everyone back on track.

melaniecrissey's profile thumbnail
I love this! Have used DACI at my current company and previously company and it's so clarifying. It makes it so much easier to celebrate the person stepping in to lead an effort.My only grief is when people don't use it properly. Red flags look like: more than one driver listed, way too many approvers, or people forgetting what the "D" stands for and thinking it means "Decider" or mixing up "Approver" with "Accountable"
KeshawnHughes's profile thumbnail
Great story and solution! I've used RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) models for years as both a project manager and product marketer and have experienced excellent results. I'm happy to learn about DACI and hope your share is helpful to many!
heredci's profile thumbnail
Love this! Wish I had known about this in some of my previous roles. Definitely will keep this in mind. Thank you! :)