How To Avoid Team Dysfunctions

“Successful teamwork is not about mastering subtle, sophisticated theories, but rather about combining common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make teamwork so elusive.” – Patrick Lencioni

There are many noted benefits of working in a team. Not only can teamwork foster creativity and encourage productive risk-taking, but it also combines the strengths of all the team members into one dominant force. Working in a team environment is always a learning experience, and it often has excellent results.

However, teamwork  can come with its own unique frustrations and challenges, and these difficulties are often exacerbated by specific dysfunctions that commonly occur in groups.

In his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni outlines the primary causes of a team failing to succeed or thrive by using a pyramid structure. According to Lencioni, the five primary dysfunctions are:

  • Inattention to results
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Lack of commitment
  • Fear of conflict
  • Absence of trust

It certainly isn’t hard to see why these five elements would cause dysfunction and disruption within a team, but resolving these issues is another thing entirely.

Each of these elements plays its own role in dysfunction, but it’s important to note they are all interconnected with one another. When one level of dysfunction comes into play, there is often a domino effect that causes further dysfunction. When you notice any malfunction in your team, it’s useful to pinpoint the dysfunction you’re experiencing on the pyramid, and then go one step down to see if that’s the cause.

As a leader, the responsibility of resolving team dysfunctions often comes down to you, and your team will look to you for guidance in stressful situations. There are several things you can do to ease team dysfunctions and, once implemented, it won’t take long to see their positive effects.

The most effective way to tackle all five dysfunctions of a team is to lead by example and be a positive role model for your team.

If your team isn’t results-oriented:

Make sure a project or task’s desired results are clearly explained. Often, team members may be more focused on personal goals than those of the entire team, and this interferes with the overall success of the team. To avoid this, track your team’s goals for all to see, and publicly celebrate when these goals are achieved.  If your team knows exactly what the ultimate goal of a project is, they’re more likely to focus on achieving that specific objective. Reinforce the importance of the goals you set for your team by communicating the particular benefits of achieving those goals. There isn’t room for ambivalence in teamwork, so every assignment’s intended target needs to be communicated by the leader throughout the course of a project to keep the team on track.

If your team avoids taking accountability:

Outline each team member’s role clearly ahead of time to make sure there’s a healthy level of pressure on each team member to do their part. When team members don’t feel pressure to take accountability to improve their performance, they may become complacent and not strive to do their best work. When every team member knows their specific role and requirements on any given task, it holds them accountable. Keep track of progress, roles, and deadlines in an open manner, and make sure every team member knows exactly what’s expected of them. Ultimately, this makes it more difficult for team members to displace blame onto other team members.

If your team lacks commitment:

Make sure your team members know their opinions and voice are valued by giving everyone the chance to be heard. A team member lacking commitment will have difficulty making decisions they stick to. Committing one’s full self to a project can be challenging when they feel as though their contribution isn’t weighted as highly as that of other team members. Everyone on your team needs the chance to make their opinions and input heard, and they’re more likely to commit to the project when they don’t feel as though their efforts are taken for granted. A team aligned around common objectives is more likely to commit to their decisions and complete a project successfully.

If your team fears conflict:

Work on communicating efficient conflict resolution methods with your team. Once your team sees that conflict isn’t always the end of the world and it can be resolved peacefully, they’re more likely to tackle issues head-on. A group who fears conflict often displays artificial harmony, and while everything may look okay on the surface, there can be profound dysfunction happening below that is interfering with productivity and other critical elements of a successful team. Demonstrate examples of positive conflict to your team and show them that working through these situations leads to a more unified team and doesn’t always result in tension and discomfort.

If your team displays an absence of trust:

Showcase your faith in your team and don’t hold back from displaying your confidence in those you lead. Plan team building activities for your group where you can bond as individuals and form stronger, trusting relationships. When you give your team the opportunity to see their team members in more human and vulnerable situations, it builds strong bonds. A lack of trust leads to invulnerability, so your team also needs to see their leader put their own vulnerability on display to show them they can do the same. The absence of trust sits at the bottom of Lencioni’s pyramid because everything is built on trust, and without it, a team is bound to be dysfunctional.

While some level of dysfunction in any team is common, there are specific powerful steps a leader can take to minimise the dysfunction and promote a harmonious work environment and an efficient team.

Which of the five dysfunctions have you spotted in your team? What have you done to ease the dysfunction? Join the conversation below!

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