How to Identify a Dysfunctional Team

By Laura Huckabee-Jennings, CEO – Group work and project teams. Do these words make you break out into a cold sweat? Can you recall memories of group work in school where you did all the work? Perhaps you remember project teams where one personality dominated the decisions or hogged any credit to be had? If so, you are in good company. Most of us have had bad team experiences at some point or another. If your current team is better than that, you may feel that your team is doing pretty well. In fact, you may feel that you do not have a dysfunctional team.

However, most team dysfunction in the workplace is more subtle. Rather than screaming and shouting or bullying, work teams can be dysfunctional with little drama — and little engagement! Let’s first take a look at the characteristics of a high performing team.

What Does a High Performing Team Look Like?

A high-performing team should include a fair amount of debate and discussion to make sure decisions are thoughtful and thorough, and to include a wide variety of perspectives in the process.  This form of conflict can be lively and even loud, but it’s focused on the issues and solutions, not on the people.

It also should have very little filtering needed to get the most important conversations on the table and not ignored. On a high-functioning team, you can state unpopular points of view, poorly-worded opinions and contrary datapoints and still get back to an issue-focused conversation that leads to better outcomes. It doesn’t become personal.

“…work teams can be dysfunctional with little drama – and little engagement!”

You will also find that a great team will consist of team members who are not only competent in their fields of expertise, but who also give their all to make sure that the team goals are met. They will even sacrifice personal achievement for the sake of team achievement, if needed. 

So how do you know if you are dealing with a dysfunctional team? You can start by asking yourself these three questions about your team. Question how you generate even better performance using these simple benchmarks.

Are your managers struggling to retain their teams?


Ask These Three Questions to Identify a Dysfunctional Team


dysfunctional teamDo I regularly get and give feedback on this team?

High-performing teams regularly give each other feedback on performance, ideas, and provide accountability. If you feel your opinions are not welcome by all your teammates, or you do not get input and feedback from others on how you could improve or how to make your ideas more successful, then your team has barriers to speaking freely and sharing opinions. You may have insufficient trust between team members, or be reluctant to embrace conflict for fear it will damage relationships.

Is everyone on the team open and honest with one another?

When you discuss the effectiveness of actions, review performance, or seek development input, do you feel everyone says what they really think? Is anyone artificially polite or appear to be holding back their thoughts? Or do you have the sense that people on the team have personal goals that conflict with the goals of the team? This may also indicate a lack of trust, an avoidance of conflict, or simply a lack of commitment to team goals over personal goals. These are all signs of a team that could use some work.

Are we all equally committed to the team goals?

Do you ever feel like most of the work is done by a few members of the team, and others find ways to do as little as possible? Perhaps you sense that some team members will only take on tasks that benefit them personally? Are there team members who are regularly late with their tasks and seem to always have urgent reasons they could not complete their part? Sometimes you may even see passive-aggressive behaviors. For example, agreeing to actions in the team meeting and then failing to follow through or undermining the agreement afterwards. These are all symptoms of a dysfunctional team and one that has a lack of commitment – often because team members are not clear on what is expected or do not feel that their opinions were heard when the goals were set.

When you ask these three questions, how does your team do? If you answered any of these questions with a “no,” then you have room to work on your team relationships.


Want to learn more about building effective teams?

Check out Series 2 of our Fearless Leaders MasterClass®.

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