When the team is dysfunctional

Many of us have been there. The team can’t seem to find its groove. It’s dysfunctional. People don’t communicate well with each other. There are underlying issues no one wants to seem to put on the table. There are cliques and sub groups. Basically, it just doesn’t feel like a team. When you have to work together day in and day out, and its not really the best team environment it can seriously impact your engagement at work.

Generally, if you put most groups of people together for long enough they will ‘norm’ as a group. They will figure each other out and find ways to work around each other. They build what we call ‘predictive trust’; as in, I know you well enough to predict how you will behave in certain circumstances and how to manage you, and myself around you, so that things stay on an even keel. But the team isn’t really a true team; people aren’t working with each other as well as they could, and sometimes the lack of ‘gel’ in the team is a real distraction.

So what do you do?

Well if your team is stuck in that uncomfortable stage we call ‘storming’. There are definitely things you can do. Here are some suggestions that might help:

1. Build some trust (the other kind!)

As we said earlier, leave people together long enough and they will develop a degree of predictive trust. But really high performing teams have a different type of trust: vulnerability based trust. The team is comfortable being vulnerable with each other. That type of trust has to be built with intention. So, first step, get to know what is important to each other. You can’t work well with each other if you don’t know what makes each other ‘tick’, what are your pet peeves and motivations. We have lots of blog posts about building trust (you can check out a couple here and here) but try doing a shield exercise, or use an assessment tool like DiSC or Myers Briggs (with a trained facilitator) to help the team get to know each other properly.

2. Revisit your common purpose.

People work best together when they have a common goal they everyone believes in. If your team isn’t working towards the same goal, then no-one is going to be pulling in the same direction and you’ll likely get people following their own agenda and the team will be dysfunctional. That means a fragmented team. So spend some time together developing a common goal that you can all get behind. Then , when things get ‘sticky’ this is what you come back to. Its the glue that means you put your issues to one side (or better still, constructively work through them) and work together to make things happen.

3. Set yourselves up to succeed with conflict

Conflict is important. Having conflict is important. Conflict isn’t the ‘bad’ word that we sometimes read it to be. Conflict means different perspectives. We need those to develop the best solution, but as people we don’t always do conflict well. So put some rules around it. How and when as a group do you address issues? Appoint a facilitator if you have to discuss really challenging topics. Set some rules about how and when challenging topics are raised.

4. Make sure the leader is playing the right role

When a team is dysfunctional, the role of the leader is key. The leader needs to give clear direction to the team, reinforce that common purpose and showcase the different talents of each team member so that the members of the team gain an appreciation for each other. A leader that tries to do too much democratic decision making will likely find they don’t get any traction, so the leader shouldn’t be reticent to be the one to make decisions and table the issues that need to be discussed.

5. Work on your ability to give feedback

Nothing prevents a team from performing or makes a team dysfunctional faster than gossip and back biting. Issues need to be tabled by the team within the team. But, as we all know, giving feedback can be hard. Work with the team to build their feedback skills one step at a time. Start with sharing positives with each other (we’d suggest a circle of appreciation exercise) and work up to sharing more specific and developmental feedback. At ethree we use a quick and easy feedback process called ‘FeedDate’ which is essentially feedback speed dating. If you’d like to know how it works, get in touch!

At the end of the day, the important thing with a dysfunctional team is that you don’t stay there, and that you as a team find ways to work through your issues and get on track.

Not sure where to begin or which of these tips might help best? Get in touch. We have worked with all kinds of teams with all kinds of challenges to help drive collaboration and build a really high performing team.

You might also want to read:

Team building: Set a strong foundation
Team building: Are you really performing?

We also offer team building sessions as well as a program to help you build your team yourself. So don’t live with dysfunction, get in touch!

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