5 Attitudes of a Dysfunctional Team

With more companies deciding to refer to their employees, managers, and CEOs as team members, there’s been a natural focus on how to build that sense of teamwork and positive collaboration.

Everyone knows what it’s like to work on a dysfunctional team. Maybe one person micromanages everything or doesn’t respect the time and efforts of everyone else, or maybe each person has a different vision for the outcome of a project. Either way, it only takes one negative influence to disrupt the flow of good teamwork.

When you’re working to rebuild that sense of community, here’s a good place to start.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

One of my favorite books is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It's written in an easy-to-read story format and tells the story of fictitious CEO Kathryn Peterson who learns to define and fix the five fundamental dysfunctions in her company.

[Want to learn more about leadership? Download a FREE copy of the e-book Jobless!]

The Pyramid

Lencioni created a pyramid that lays out the essential qualities of a functional team. This pyramid has five tiers: Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, and Results-orientation. It works similarly to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid in that a person cannot move to a higher tier of the pyramid without first acquiring and mastering the characteristics in the base levels. When team members don’t adhere to the principles in the pyramid, these five dysfunctional attitudes appear:

Attitude #1: Invulnerability

The Problem

Trust is the ability and willingness of people to become vulnerable with one another, and this vulnerability and trust establish the foundation for a functional team. Teammates who don’t trust one another are more likely to:

  • Hide their weaknesses
  • Not ask for help or feedback
  • Not recognize and use others’ skills and experience
  • Not offer to help others outside their responsibilities
  • Hold grudges
  • Dread meetings

The Solution

To build trust in a company, get your employees to partake in a personal history exercise so people can understand where others are coming from, which makes them more likely to care for and respect one another. Ensuring that all sides provide honest and helpful feedback is key for improvement. Teams who trust make use of everyone’s stories and skills.

Attitude #2: Artificial Harmony

The Problem

People create artificial harmony when they pretend to be on board with ideas they may not actually agree with. This happens because people are afraid of engaging others in heated discussions and in conflict. What they don’t realize is that teams need candid debate and good conflict to flourish. Teams which fear conflict:

  • Have boring meetings
  • Create environments that facilitate personal attacks
  • Ignore important but controversial topics
  • Ignore team-member ideas and contributions
  • Waste time

The Solution

Embracing tough conversations and conflict with teammates results in more interesting meetings, which minimize personal politics and address real problems. To overcome the fear of conflict, teams must first acknowledge that it is productive. Occasionally, team members must bring up buried disagreements and learn how to work past them. Conflict is most effective when team members consider all ideas objectively and are not No-sayers. Ultimately, corporate conflict solves problems and generates ideas. 

Attitude #3: Ambiguity

The Problem

Team members cannot commit to ambiguous tasks. When priorities and deadlines are not defined, people are left without direction and both time and energy are wasted. Time should be spent working on the project instead of thinking through different options about the project. Members of ambiguous teams:

  • Miss opportunities by over-analyzing decisions
  • Lack confidence and fear failure
  • Discuss decisions again and again
  • Second-guess themselves

The Solution

Committed teams have defined objective, learn from their mistakes, and seize opportunities without hesitation or guilt. Teach a team to be committed by learning to communicate quickly with one another, defining goals and deadlines, and outlining a worst-case scenario. These steps help to quicken the decision-making process and to remove fear from making mistakes. Committed teams never stop moving forward, seizing opportunities, and learning from past outcomes. 

Attitude #4: Low Standards

The Problem

Many people will only work up to the standards they are held accountable to, and when team members do not maintain those standards, it sends the message that low standards are acceptable. This can also result in hardworking and non-hardworking employees being treated and compensated the same way, which drives high-achieving employees away. Members of a team which avoids accountability:

  • Feel resentment about different performance standards
  • Can produce mediocre work
  • Miss deadlines
  • Allow only the leader to dish out discipline

The Solution

To ensure that people are held accountable, goals and standards need to be written and made public so that no one can ignore them. Personal work should be held against objectives and standards and evaluated in that way. Rewarding the team for hard work instead of individuals helps overall commitment to deadlines and standards. Accountable teams work hard, continuously improve, and can be trusted to meet deadlines. 

Attitude #5: Status and Ego

The Problem

Status and ego become an issue when a person’s desire for receiving praise is more important than doing what’s best for the team’s results. A team that is inattentive to results:

  • Fails to grow
  • Rarely matches or beats competitors
  • Loses achievement-oriented employees
  • Is easily distracted
  • Allows people to focus primarily on their individual goals

The Solution

Publishing company newsletters which include results from each department is the first step to becoming a results-oriented team. Putting an emphasis on team results over individual results, and rewarding team members based on results helps to reinforce this change. Teams that are results-oriented minimize individualistic behavior, retain achievement-oriented employees, and avoid distractions.

It’s easy to get caught in any of these traps laid out in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, but recognizing the symptoms of these dysfunctions is the first step to becoming a committed, attentive, harmonious team.

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