If you’re managing a team, chances are you’ve experienced team dysfunction. That’s not a judgement against you or your team – just an observation of normal human behavior. Whenever humans get together to accomplish a goal, some level of conflict naturally occurs. If not planned for, addressed, and actively remedied, unproductive team conflict can quickly devolve into other problems and issues.
How to Identify Dysfunctional Team Behavior
The problem is, team dysfunction isn’t always obvious. At a glance, your team may appear fine, maybe even relatively productive. As long as teammates aren’t shouting at one another, you should be good, right? Wrong. The farther beneath the surface your team’s issues lie, the more dangerous they become. However, even if your team’s challenges remain beneath the surface, there are inevitably warning signs.
If you haven’t done so yet, take a close look at your team. What do you see? Do you notice mistrust or low morale? Resentment? High turnover? What about missed deadlines or upset customers? Are teammates pointing fingers, failing to take responsibility, or just going through the motions? All these are indications it may be time for a change.
What to Do if You’re Experiencing Team Dysfunction
If you’re looking for a way to assess your team, identify specific teamwork challenges, and create a clear path forward, a great place to start is with team assessment tools. For assessing team cohesiveness specifically, consider The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™. This powerful team development tool is built on the five themes explored in team management guru Patrick Lencioni’s New York Times bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team™.
By working through challenges that commonly indicate team breakdown, teams have a chance to turn their issues into opportunities.
Three Ways to Make Team Dysfunction Profitable
Let’s take a look at three common symptoms of team dysfunction, what to do about them, and how addressing them will positively impact your bottom line.
Problem #1: Teammates won’t admit mistakes or ask for help.
Negative Impact: If the work environment does not feel safe, teammates will play their cards close to the chest, refusing to let down their guard. This leads to individuals trying to do it all (and often failing because they are operating in silos). Overall, teamwork suffers, productivity decreases, and the lack of collaboration produces less-than-stellar results.
Solution: As a manager, lead by example. Show your team openness and vulnerability. Genuinely connect with team members, and willingly share your strengths and weaknesses. Admit when you need help, thereby showing them it’s okay for them to do the same. Consider using assessment tools, and/or bringing in an outside facilitator to encourage open discussion of work styles and priorities.
Increase Profitability: When teammates trust one another enough to admit they need help, they can leverage their respective strengths and call on one another as needed to achieve better results. A collaborative approach improves productivity across the board, allowing teammates to produce higher-quality work in less time.
Problem #2: Conflict is unproductive, beneath the surface, or seems absent altogether.
Negative Impact: Conflict is natural, but not everyone feels comfortable actively engaging in honest, passionate debate with their fellow teammates. An aversion to conflict or an environment where conflict is discouraged can trigger fear, speculation, and gossip, all of which further destabilize the group. If team members don’t openly air their opinions, resentment can build, leading to inferior decisions, high turnover, and low morale.
Solution: Expect conflict. Speak about it openly with your team. State that it is required for productive meetings, must be upfront, and should always be resolved, even if that means agreeing to disagree. Learn about each other’s conflict styles, possibly using a tool like Agile EQ, and establish team-wide ground rules for how conflict should occur.
Increased Profitability: The best decisions are made when all sides are considered. To make the most of your talent and resources, it’s worth taking time to gain their perspective before formulating an action plan. Not only will teammates feel more committed once their voices have been heard, but their vested interest will keep them engaged and creative along the way. That means you’ll get their best, and your customers will, too.
Problem #3: Teammates are unfocused, and there’s a lack of accountability.
Negative Impact: What is productivity if you don’t know where you’re going? Without a clear goal and action plan, you’ll lose speed quickly, even if you’ve got a team of high-performing individuals. In order to succeed, teammates need a joint goal to work towards, a raison d’être that brings them together.
Solution: Create a clear action plan with tangible group milestones and goals, and stick to it. Reward individuals based on team goals and collective success (instead of praising individual accomplishments specifically), and encourage open communication along the way. Keep team successes front and center to remind teammates of their contribution to the collective impact of the whole team.
Increased Profitability: Neuroscience has taught us that “celebrating your forward momentum helps you stay in motion” – a key concept that influences everything from making your New Year’s resolutions stick to driving your team to new heights. However, there’s a caveat: “You must stop and recognize that you’ve just done something helpful towards your long-term goal. When you intentionally pause and celebrate, even tiny little steps towards your goals can drive you in the right direction.” (Read the full post here.)
Over time, celebrating little wins as a team reinforces your collective momentum, ultimately building to bigger and bigger achievements. Furthermore, by allowing teammates to hold each other accountable along the way, everyone benefits. Results include improved productivity, higher quality work, and of course, increased profitability… often far sooner than anyone imagined.
The Bottom Line
Team development is frequently overlooked, but investing in your team to help them grow together is always worthwhile. The steps to developing a high-performing, profitable team are straightforward, though they are not always easy:
- Teach your team strong self-awareness and communication skills.
- Create an environment that encourages trust and vulnerability.
- Provide your team with clear goals and an actionable plan to guide them.
- Empower your people to hold each other accountable as you work towards goals together.
- Celebrate every success along the way.
When you do, you will discover that team cohesion and profitability truly go hand in hand.