The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

Facing Team Dysfunction

sitting in a circle facing outDysfunction at work is suffocating: it sucks energy from everyone involved, harms morale, impairs productivity and limits the team’s potential.

Perhaps you are getting an earful from members of your team about their colleagues. Or you’re spending far too much time addressing conflicts others aren’t managing on their own. Are there too many balls dropped and too many excuses as to why, rather than solutions being presented? Are people walking on egg shells in meetings because of an issue no one will put on the table?

You can’t go on turning your backs to each other. No relationship thrives that way – not at home and not at work.

There is no silver bullet, but there is hope. Even the worst team dysfunction can be resolved with leadership, vision, commitment and hard work. It frequently also requires the help of an objective thought partner.

When I facilitate teams through their dysfunction someone inevitably comments that I must feel like a marriage counselor. While I am certainly not qualified to counsel couples, there are significant parallels. Much like a challenging moment in partnership at home, working through team dysfunction is hard: it forces you to face your issues head on. Success requires a willingness to communicate candidly, be vulnerable, and admit your own weaknesses.

As Pat Lencioni illustrates in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. For any work team, just like a personal relationship, fostering trust takes intention and good will.

As the leader, it’s your job to address the dysfunction even if you can’t quite put your finger on it. Leading a dysfunctional team can be exhausting and overwhelming: you don’t have to know how to do it – that’s where outside experts can help. You do need to be willing to take the lead, find support, and most importantly, model the way by showing your vulnerability first and striving to build good will.

As a leader faced with the challenge of a dysfunctional team, where do you start?

  • Set your intention to overcome dysfunction and lay out a plan.
  • Understand that you play a role in the dysfunction.
  • Be prepared to listen to challenging feedback.
  • Be prepared to be vulnerable, open and candid in order to build a culture of trust.
  • Find a thought partner, preferably an objective third party so everyone, including yourself, feels truly free to face the elephants that are impeding the team.
  • Commit to a process – understand that getting to a healthy place will not happen overnight.
  • Work with your team to set a vision forward by defining the culture and behaviors you would like to establish to drive renewed energy and a sense of teamwork.

Working through dysfunction takes time, patience, candor, determination and vulnerability — just like a marriage.  It’s hard work, but that payoff of building a strong cohesive team is game changing and has the potential to improve results across the organization.

If you sense dysfunction in the form of languishing morale, decreased productivity, negativity or other signs, let us help you strengthen your leadership team.