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5 signs of a dysfunctional team

Updated: Apr 17

Eliminate the problems, improve your culture, and boost performance.

Do you ever wonder why some teams seem to work well together and others - don’t? There are telltale signs - the snarky comments, the lack of help on projects, and the shifting responsibilities to others.

Working at different companies, we have seen certain behaviors kill productivity. Sometimes, they are hard to spot as they are part of an overall company culture.

The impact of dysfunctional teams

According to a report by Harvard Business Review, a toxic corporate culture costs American businesses $50 billion annually and decreases employee productivity by 38 percent.

It was reported that 25% of employees in a toxic culture took their frustrations with the job out on clients – resulting in bad customer experiences. When your teams are dysfunctional, customers feel it.

Why do teams become dysfunctional in the first place?

  1. Lack of Awareness: Sometimes, individuals fail to recognize these signs because they focus solely on their tasks, overlooking broader team dynamics.

  2. Fear of Confrontation: Addressing these issues head-on can be uncomfortable, so many choose to ignore or avoid them.

  3. Normalization of Dysfunction: Teams accustomed to dysfunction may consider it the norm, failing to see it as a problem.

  4. Leadership Blindness: In some cases, leaders might overlook these signs because they are preoccupied with larger organizational goals.

  5. Misplaced Priorities: When productivity is the main focus, signs of dysfunction might be disregarded.

But here's the good news: You can overcome these challenges by starting to recognize and spot the red flags.

Recognizing toxic behaviors and identifying the signs early on can prevent team breakdowns, increase productivity, and create a team atmosphere of collaboration and trust.

The outcome? A more efficient workflow, improved communication, and a team thrives on synergy rather than conflict.

How to identify the 5 tell-tale signs of a dysfunctional team:

1. Unnecessary Drama

What to Look For: Drama manifests as excessive conflicts, personal disagreements, or unresolved tensions within the team. It often results in emotional outbursts, passive-aggressive behavior, or frequent arguments over trivial matters.

Recognition Tactics: Pay attention to recurring conflicts that seem disproportionate to the issues. Note if individuals are overly sensitive to feedback or if there's a prevalent sense of unease among team members.

This can look like someone gossiping about someone else or going to leadership about a trivial issue about someone else. Backstabbing is also a key indicator of dysfunction.

2. Lack of Trust

What to Look For: In an environment lacking trust, team members hesitate to be vulnerable or open up to one another. There's a lack of dependability, with individuals refraining from asking for help or admitting mistakes due to fear of judgment or reprisal.

Recognition Tactics: Observe if team members avoid sharing their opinions or information. Look for signs of micromanagement or a reluctance to delegate tasks due to doubts about others' capabilities.

3. Complaining

What to Look For: Complaining often becomes a default response to challenges. Team members might constantly vent about issues without offering constructive solutions. There might be a prevailing negative atmosphere that stifles productivity.

Recognition Tactics: Take note of repeated grievances without attempts to address them. Look for patterns where problems are discussed extensively without progress toward solutions. Negativity is your key indicator.

4. Politicking

What to Look For: Politicking involves manipulative behaviors, forming cliques, or playing office politics to gain advantage or control. It can lead to hidden agendas, favoritism, or the exclusion of certain team members from decision-making processes.

Recognition Tactics: Notice if factors beyond the merit of ideas influence decisions. Observe subtle alliances forming or instances where information is selectively shared among specific groups.

5. Blame

What to Look For: A blame culture arises when individuals or the team consistently shift responsibility for failures without focusing on problem-solving. There's a reluctance to take ownership or be held accountable.

Recognition Tactics: Pay attention to conversations where fault-finding precedes finding solutions. Note if mistakes are consistently attributed to external factors or other team members without introspection.

By observing these behaviors and interactions within your team, you'll be better equipped to identify these signs of dysfunction. Recognizing these signs early allows for targeted interventions to address underlying issues and foster a more cohesive and functional team environment.

What can be done about dysfunctional behaviors?

Fortunately, dysfunctional behaviors can be addressed. Noticing them and starting to address them is how you can get your team back on track.

In our next article, we'll discuss specific ways to address and remove dysfunctional behaviors from your team so that your company can get back on track.

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