Topic

Dysfunctional Teams

If you are in a hurry to assemble a group of people who can ‘do the work’, you will end up with folks who merely needed a job. On the other hand, if you are willing to invest in people who are enrolled in the journey you’re on, you will end up with a team. —Seth Godin, author, and thought leader

If you have been on a team that was firing on all cylinders and performing at an elite level, then you have experienced something magical.  The synergy between teammates, the accountability, mission focus and sense of indomitability pervades the culture.  Team members are fulfilled and look forward to coming to work and even working harder than ever before.  All are happy from internal motivation, healthy, and getting real work done.  The elite team conquers tasks insurmountable to less evolved teams, and with apparent ease.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon, yet our VUCA environments require that it become the norm.  Too often we find ourselves struggling for forward movement on a mediocre team.  Dysfunctional teams can be fixed, but it takes time and patience.

Dysfunctional Team Characteristics

  • Diversity is mandated and applauded but leads to decreased performance standards and uncomfortable communications as taboo subjects are avoided and PC attitude stifles authenticity and honesty.  The team spirit gets numbed.
  • Teammates self-select for the wrong reasons (rank, money, more responsibility when not ready, misaligned with purpose).  Or they are promoted into a position they are not suited for.  Or they are simply on the team by default.  This leads to the wrong people in the wrong seats, and no sense of “specialness” and unity.
  • Teammates are not committed to self-mastery nor team mastery.  Some hold to an ethos, others are just marking time.  One bad apple spoils the bunch.
  • The mission and vision are not clear or lack inspiration.  The team isn’t fired up to “charge the hill” or change the world.
  • The organization is mired with endless meetings and reporting requirements, getting in the way of real work.  The focus and energy of the team are crushed.
  • Risk aversion leads to an attitude of “can’t do” rather than “can do.”
  • The team is stuck in “this is is the way things are always done” pattern and thus lack the flexibility or skill for adaptability and innovation. There is no room for creative expression on the team.
  • The team is not a growth team, so they stagnate.
  • There are many other attributes of a dysfunctional team that you have likely observed.  You can use those for self-awareness of what other things to watch out for as you build your elite teams.

As we discussed in the Authentic Leadership lesson, most leadership theories are either a series of traits and behaviors or a “grand strategy” such as Servant Leadership.  In these theories, the focus is on the leader’s skills, competencies, traits, and behaviors.  Conventional wisdom tells us that great teams exist as the result of a leader embodying the latest trendy leadership theory.  This awesome leader is a forceful personality who does things right… defines a powerful vision for the team, establishes a SMART mission, and develops a set of sound team values.  Then they will prepare the strategic plan that captures the objectives in a chart and timeline, sit back and pray.  

The team has some early optimism as they embark on the new (or annual) mission, but soon the shirking of responsibility and lack of ownership and growth mindset send the team in a slow death spiral.  A new leader is then selected and this scenario is played over until someone breaks the mold. 

Elite team performance requires more than a leader’s awesomeness.  It is an entity in its own, like a multi-brained human.  Yes, it requires leadership… let’s say the leader is the head brain.  But the other brains are not subservient, or jacked into that leader’s brain (at least not yet and God help us if that happens someday, IMO).  So, team members are autonomous entities until aligned in a unified vision, mission, and action.  This is simple to understand, but hard to create.  Let’s look at how an elite team functions and builds a team body, mind, and spirit in all three spheres of I, We and It, or Self, Team, and Organization.

Course Discussion