5 ways to lead a dysfunctional team into the light

By February 7, 2019client

In the modern workplace, most work is performed as a member of a team. Yet, few teams ever reach their full potential or function as efficiently as they are capable of, because they are dysfunctional.  The reasons that cause the dysfunction are often numerous, and whilst not large in isolation, all add up to cause dysfunction. It might be indiscreet gossip about other team members, could be purposeful sabotage or someone not delivering on a commitment,  they all contribute to a team being dysfunctional. A dysfunctional team can suck the life out of their members resulting in poor productivity and high turnover.

As a leader of a dysfunctional team, it’s up to you to fix it. The good news is, even if you feel like you are fighting an uphill battle, it is possible to turn it around without having to perform drastic surgery. Usually, the root cause for a dysfunctional team is a lot deeper than a saboteur employee or poor management.

So, what are the secrets to fixing a dysfunctional team? The promise of a cohesive, functioning team may seem a dream that much desire, but not everyone can achieve.  Patrick Lencioni in his book “The five dysfunctions of a team” has developed a simple strategic framework that helps a team become functional and work efficiently and effectively together.

Build Trust

Trust is the foundation of teamwork. A lack of mutual trust between team members will mean almost certainly the team will fail. And, this isn’t the “fall-back into my arms and I will catch you” type of trust. This is vulnerable trust built by spending time getting to know each other and being open about who you are and why you act and make decisions the way you do.

To build trust, members must be willing to be vulnerable and openly show their weaknesses to one another. The absence of trust is a killer for a team, as members are defensive,  reluctant to ask for help and unwilling to call bad behavior and become self-centered and focus on individual survival – the examples of this in the world today as numerous.

As a team leader, you set the tone in building trust that leads to open and transparent conversations, you don’t have to be the most popular or best-liked person on the team, however, to be an effective leader you must be trusted and respected. Stop trying to appease everyone are it undermines you and make you unproductive. Being a ‘yes’ person results in you making decisions for the wrong reason and will only lose your respect. A functioning team has a strong leader who has earnt the respect and trust of their team and usually is liked because the team is performing.

Remember, trust can take years to build and seconds to destroy, and forever to repair. If you have trust treasure it as it will make your job, and life, easier.


Engage in unfiltered conflict

A lack of trust, means you do not have the grounds for conflict-based discussions. Teams that lack the willingness to have robust, conflict-based discussions will display low energy, a lack of engagement and a culture of lethargy. Opposing opinions and the resulting conversations are good for business and team building. Avoiding conflict and replacing it with the shiny facade of artificial harmony are detrimental and will result in team failure (eg think of the banks and the Royal Banking Commission).

A team must be able to have robust conversations, discussing various views and opinions in a respectful manner to reach a mutual decision, that everyone commits to as the agreed course of action and path the team will take. The required level of unfiltered conflict will only occur if there is trust. If team members feel unable to openly express their opinions and reasoning behind those, an inferior decision or one not supported by all will be made to ensure no one’s feelings get hurt. Productive conflict will reflect the passion felt by the team and result in exceptional outcomes


Commitment to action 

Without conflict, team members often feel their opinions are not heard or important and for that reason alone, they will not fully commit or buy into decisions. These members will just cruise through their job 9 – 5 and never add the value they can, and it is your fault as the team leader.

Productive teams commit, whole-heartedly, to the same goal having reached agreement on the issue. These teams feel confident making commitments to a decision as they support and trust each other and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. This is not about seeking consensus, it is making sure everyone is heard, that robust, respectful conversations occur, that all team members listen and collectively agree to commit to working together towards a goal.


Acceptance of accountability

Very often, the key to success is making clear what the team’s standards are, what needs to be done, by whom and when. The chosen course of action will only occur if the team is held accountable. If individuals cannot commit to tasks set by the team then the entire workflow that follows will break down. In a functioning team, each and every team member is responsible for holding each other, and themselves accountable and should offer support to help each other deliver.

Being unable to accept the team decision as an individual will only result in avoidance of accountability. As the leader, you have to communicate regularly the need for team members to accept accountability. You must create an environment where team members can, without fear of retribution, “call out” poor behavior and acceptance of accountability. This is not to apportion blame, rather hold the team accountable for its commitment.


No ‘I’ in Team

A team will only deliver results when team members place the achievement of the team’s results above their individual results. When team members aren’t held accountable, individuals will put their own individual interest above the team then results will not be achieved. The mantra there is no ‘I’ in team will help overcome this self-centered individual focus. Clarity of the team commitments, rewarding behaviors that contribute to the team’s performance rather than the individuals and openly displaying results will lead to the achievement of the goal.

Final Takeaway

A true leader leaves their ego at the door, they lead by example and develop their team into a high functioning, performing team that has trust and respect for each other. We all have worked in good, and bad, teams, it is your choice each day to help build the team you want to work in

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