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How do you manage dysfunctional teams?

Written By

Jill Bromund

President and Senior Consultant of Coachability

Briefly Speaking

Learn the seven key factors a manager needs to look at when dealing with dysfunctional teams.
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The first step of managing dysfunctional teams is to find out what is causing the dysfunction. The short summary is to look for at least these seven areas. 

  1. Breaks in trust:  Has anyone on the team undermined or betrayed others on the team? Are personal relationships rocky and ruining the dynamic of the team? If so, it might be time for a conflict resolution. A coach or mediator can help with this. If you don’t know of one, check with your HR person.

  2. Closed communicationThis is usually caused by a culture of fear. If the team is reluctant to speak, find out what (or more likely who) they are afraid of. If the answer is the team leader or the boss, you have some work to do to reestablish an atmosphere of open communication. A 360 or other type of performance review for the leader will help to uncover the reason for the culture of fear. It is so important to unravel this that your team will not make it if you do not do so. Consider this a top priority.

  3. Lack of metricsWhen a team does not have metrics to compare and bring to each meeting, the leaders of the team have no way to judge performance other than by rumor. Rumor is a poor substitute for metrics. Make sure the accountability on the team is fair by using metrics only to judge performance on a weekly or monthly basis. It is fine to look at soft skills in a yearly performance review, but soft skills are too subjective for a short-term judgment.

  4. Unhealthy competitionSome managers like to set up their team members as competitors rather than collaborators. Check to see if your team is set up to win as collaborators. Are you on the same side against the competition? Or choosing each other as enemies? If you are choosing your teammates as enemies, it is time to look at the structure of your team to root out what creates the competition. See if you can restructure to fix this.

  5. ExclusionDoes your team leave one or more members out of the equation when making decisions or working together? Why? If this person or these people are underperformers, handle the issue. If they are not and it is just some kind of prejudice, be the bigger person and solve it. Exclusion is a team killer.

  6. Too distantWhat have you done to build up relationships on the team? Have you held an offsite where the team members can get to know each other? What does the team do together? The team has to have events or group activities where the team can bond and build affinity.

  7. Lack of common goals Does the team have direction? Are the goals clear? What about the methods of accomplishing the goals? Team members feel insecure when they do not know what the goals are or how to accomplish them. Make the team feel secure by having a strategy meeting and getting alignment on the goals as well as the plans for achieving them. Your team members will thank you.

If you are still having trouble sorting out your team dynamics, read one of the many great books on dealing with dysfunctional teams such as Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni has an assessment in the back of the book that you can take to rate your team. He also has suggestions for each dysfunction.

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