7 Antidotes for Dysfunctional Teams

By: MarkWeaver Monday April 6, 2015 comments

No one sets out to have a dysfunctional team in their workplace.  The drama, the hassle, and the headache of a dysfunctional team can suck the energy right out of an organization.  From the early years in the sandbox at kindergarten, all the way to the golf courses of Sun Valley, AZ, people have to play well together.  Nowhere is this more evident than at work, where we spend a large portion of our waking life.
An antidote is not a vaccination.  A vaccination is given to build up immunity to prevent illness.  An antidote is something administered to counteract a poison.  Following are some common problems of dysfunctional teams, and antidotes to counteract the poinsons they cause:

  • The leader doesn’t lead.  Sometimes he’s just a nice guy who doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers.  Sometimes she’s just oblivious, focusing on her own work rather than setting direction.  But in the absence of leadership, multiple other people morph the organization into what they think works best – resulting in an organization with a multiple personality disorder.  Totally dysfunctional.  Antidote:  If you’re the leader, you’ve got to set direction, lead the way, warn the disruptive, help the stragglers, and encourage everyone.  Over-communicate your vision.
  • Blame.  In the blame mode, people don’t solve problems and learn from them; they blame one another.  So rather than fixing mistakes, learning from them, preventing them for the future, and moving on, they get stuck in a negative behavior of blame.  This creates a CYA environment which is counterproductive and dysfunctional.  Antidote:  Change the mode.  Don’t let anyone assign blame to anyone including themselves.  Hold each person accountable to be accountable for their efforts only.  Accountability is not blame.  Don’t let it be.
  • Gossip.  This can look like triangulation, group think, or any pattern of behavior where an individual or group is discussed while not present.  Anytime a 3rd party is brought into an issue in this manner, the potential of a shared offense is great.  Shared offenses are difficult to resolve.  Given the very nature of gossip, it’s almost impossible to know who has been pulled in and taken offense.  Gossip and other forms of passive-aggressive behavior are dysfunctional.  Antidote:  Establish group norms with everyone’s buy in.  100% of the team has to understand and commit to them.
  • Hyperoffendedness.  When one party gets offended, the other party can get offended that the first party was offended.  Sometimes when you dig under all of the offense, it starts with small annoyances.  Frequently the problem is that team members are judging motives and hearts – a practice which is sketchy at best.  When people get in the mode of being offended, everyone starts waving their “victim” flag, and it’s completely dysfunctional.  Antidote:  Model grace, forgiveness, believing the best, and trust.  Expect others to do the same.  Set the direction that every person is responsible to help all other team members succeed.
  • Lack of Fun.  Life is short, and we spend a LOT of it with our workplace team.  It should be busy; it should be hard (in terms of work); but it should also be enjoyable.  When all the fun is gone it’s like any other relationship that has become perfunctory.  And with a lack of fun, you get dysfunction.  Antidote:  Build in some fun, build in some celebration, build in some outside teamwork.  This does not mean a basic offsite teambuilding where everyone has to hold hands and sing.  Some of the best teambuilding efforts have a much more noble purpose – working together on a Habitat for Humanity house, or at a Food Bank, for instance.  Serving others less fortunate has a way of putting things in perspective.  Serving together has a way of building a team.
  • Lack of Shared Vision.  When everyone is looking the same direction, with the same goal, some of the dysfunction dissipates.  Where there is no clear vision (or a difficult one for people to see), people often focus on the shortcomings of others.  Looking sideways instead of ahead creates dysfunction.  Antidote:  Make the vision clear.  Get everyone focused on it.  I use the analogy of climbing up the same mountain from different sides.  Everyone may be heading towards the top, but the topography can be markedly different.
  • Lack of Shared History.  Members of teams that lack a shared history tend to revert to their personal history, their personal perspective, their personal opinions.  When those differ – which they will – you get dysfunction.  Antidote:  Create some good memories.  Build some memorials… maybe not the brick and mortar kind, but why not create a FaceBook page where pictures of past events can be archived so that everyone can see and share?  People tend to forget important things.  Create some reminders.

Sometimes, workplace dysfunction isn’t easily resolved.  You may need help from an outside third party.  You may have to part ways with a team member who isn’t functioning like one.  You may have to get underneath the visible problems to see what’s causing them.  The worst thing you can do though, is nothing.  When you don’t act, it sends the message that you as the leader are either unconcerned, inept, or clueless.  That’s because what you don’t confront, you condone.  Don’t give dysfunction in your team tacit approval by saying or doing nothing.  Take it on.  Be the leader.
At Open Door HR Solutions, we honestly believe that the right team, united around a compelling vision, can change the world.  We help organizations create vision, culture, and an enviable employment brand.  And we help them find and keep the right team members, part ways with the wrong ones, and get everyone on the team focused on the compelling vision.  But we leave the change the world part up to you.
Mark Weaver, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, QES
[email protected]

About the Author: MarkWeaver


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