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Teamwork warning signs: is your team dysfunctional?

Teamwork

To be a real team in more than just name takes ongoing effort. But how can you tell if your team is performing well and collaborating effectively? Let’s take a look at some of the warning signs that might suggest some areas for improvement.

While occasional team building sessions and check-ins can keep individuals primed to play their part, team members and managers need to monitor the attitudes and behaviours of all involved, to keep a team running smoothly.

An imbalance in any of the key characteristics of a team could render it dysfunctional. A healthy team should have shared leadership, individual and team accountability, a shared goal and each member should be committed. The strong undercurrent of trust runs through each potential team pitfall.

Author on business management Patrick Lencioni coined the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The five points are stacked in a pyramid, the broad base point of absence of trust creating the strong foundation that enables teams to reach the tip: inattention to results. Lencioni argues that you cannot proceed to the point of results if you don’t first get over the issue of trust.

The absence of trust can be caused by individual reluctance to show vulnerability. Leaders can counteract this by encouraging open discussion of weaknesses and a culture that seeks to admit and learn from mistakes.

Without trust, people are not naturally able to debate. Humans need a safe psychological space for this, which can be achieved by welcoming constructive criticism, pushing for disagreement by voicing an obviously bad idea, or asking for pros and cons to a potential decision.

The midpoint of the pyramid is lack of commitment. With no trust, ideas can’t be wrung out or decisions made. If a team shows lack of commitment, find out what it is that they are not on board with. Encourage the sounding out of ideas so people can have confidence in them and can commit, giving them their full backing and attention.

When any team member is not engaged with their work, the ultimate goal is jeopardised. Even perceived lower standard of output from one person can lead others to feel they are carrying too much weight or placing too much importance on their own standards, which threatens overall quality.

Next comes avoidance of accountability. The flat hierarchy means team members might not feel comfortable bringing their counterparts’ failures to the attention of the team. Clear allocation of tasks, review dates and deadlines can nip ambiguity in the bud.

Letting your team get comfortable with nudging each other along without criticism is another area that managers can model. Accountability is lost when team members blame each other in an effort to protect themselves. If team members are more interested in self-preservation than team success, they are not committed and can’t be expected to have the mutual trust.

Results are the top of the pyramid. If a member isn’t interested in the finished work of the team it can be because they are too self-focused.

Similarly, sub-groups or silos that work independently can create silos, little niches of productivity that stand alone. The risks of this include duplication of work in other teams and therefore a waste of skill and manpower. One solution is to display responsibilities on a board, intranet or app, that can be updated when a task is finished.

Micromanaging can suggest a team member does not trust others to do their work to a high standard. Whether this is justified or not, it can lead people down a path of doubt and discomfort at being closely watched, as well as others having to pick up the slack if things do go wrong. If this is something your team members are guilty of, try to get them to understand if their concerns are based on experience or if they might be tripping colleagues up with their concerns.

It can seem natural for people on the same side to veer away from arguments but avoiding conflict altogether can undermine the strength of the team and its output. Groupthink is an easy rut to fall into – the path of least resistance – but airing doubts about the direction of a project or task, for example, can halt a bad decision in its tracks and create better ownership and commitment once everyone is more fully on board.


Let us know if you’re interested in running our Team Health Assessment with your team. Together you’ll assess your team’s performance against a number of recognised attributes most commonly found among healthy teams. The assessment will help you identify the strengths of your team and reveal opportunities for improvement.

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