5 Dysfunctions of a Team & How to Overcome

5 Dysfunctions of a Team & How to Overcome
5 Dysfunctions of a Team & How to Overcome

I help companies build functional teams, and that gives rise to questions about dysfunctional teams. No founder hires anyone to make a dysfunctional team, but there is no denial either that companies do face this issue more often than not. So, while we all know what are the traits of a highly competitive team, let's focus on traits which leads to a nightmare team any stakeholder would ever imagine.

The most powerful thing for any company to have been their people power. but just having a world class team, best pedigree, well trained team is not something which will help the company succeed. The ultimate power is to get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction and towards one goal. Every Team in the corporate world is like a team playing a sport on the field. They have a goal, high motivation and unparalleled skill to win the team, and then a lot of hard work is involved to move towards the same direction.

Every individual has their own goal and It’s a difficult job to mobilize multiple people to work in a big team with different individual goals and aspirations to make them work towards one goal. And in these situations, a team in an organization is very much like any sports team. A player would have a target to achieve maximum goals or win. But the ultimate team goals is to win for the team. The issue happens when as a leader you can't identify the individualism which is killing the goal of the entire company.

Here are the 5 dysfunctions that cause team failure and how to overcome them:

1. No Debate or Discussion: 1st Failure of a Team

When I say debate, it's about disagreeing with things. It's about participating in the discussion, forcing your way through the center, if you have something valid to contribute. Thinking like a stakeholder, and opposing decisions which are not for greater good. While what we see in the meeting room is dull, unresponsive team members, waiting for the discussion to finish. As if it does not matter to anyone. It's very unhealthy when a manager says something and teams nod in yes. There will always be something which somebody knows better than the manager. There will be some issues on the field which the manager would have ignored. Healthy discussions, respectful disagreements, questioning the decisions are signs of a healthy team. If that's not happening, it only means lack of trust. This is the first failure of any team which gives rise to an ongoing and bigger issue.

Great teams are honest with one another. They are unafraid to voice, they admit their mistakes, their weaknesses and a healthy team is full of acceptance towards each other.

Contrary to this, a healthy team never repeats the same mistakes again, they are not ready with excuses for poor performance. They don't doze responsibility on one another. More on these issues in ongoing paragraphs.

2. Not Aligned towards Results: 2nd Failure of a Team

Let's imagine a team who is failing miserably, underperforming and totally clueless of their goal. There might be one person who is doing a lot of work, over achieving his targets, but still the team loses. It's not helping anyone, poor performers will feel more let down and top performer will feel burdened and unmotivated. Best team is those where everyone wins, and that does not happen on it own. It comes with aligning towards a common goal.

Let's take an example of cricket, a batsman is concerned about achieving his century, and is playing with intention to not leave the crease, without achieving his individual goals. For the player it doesn't matter that the run rate is going down and the overcall team may lose. Such a player can never be an asset for the team. When we say Result, the organization should always be at the forefront.

The tendency of team members to seek individual recognition should not come at the expense of results. The goal of a complete team should not suffer. A team is over and above individual EGO. When we talk about a team aligned towards a goal, the first step is letting them know what the goal is. Having a proper plan in place and then the whole team takes the ownership of putting that aligned efforts towards achievement of the common goal. 

3. Fear of Conflict: 3rd Failure of a Team

The third failure of any team erupts with absence of trust, in the form of Fear of Conflict. We all must have faced situations where we chose to remain silent rather than pointing out the issue directly. We have somehow learnt in the wrong way, that for the sake of peace, avoid conflict. Let's consider a scenario, where you trust your manager and you know you are heard. You can engage constructively and voice your opinion. You are assured that you won't be misjudged, even if you are wrong, your manager will not hold a grudge against you. Rather your raising of concern will be appreciated. We all need such a work environment, where we feel heard. Surprisingly, it will lead to reduction of office politics. Because conflicts can be resolved on the foundation of trust.  If we don't trust one another, then we are going to engage in open, ideological conflict. And though, we will just continue to prevail with a sense of artificial harmony that will often lead to bigger issues. At this point we also need to understand constructive conflict Vs Tension. Passive, Sarcastic comments are not the kind of conflict any healthy team needs. Bringing others down, gossiping about better skilled people than you, does no good to any party. Harmony should be through working out issues and cycling through conflict. But if it comes due to the team holding back opinions and honest concern, then it becomes a bigger problem. 

By engaging in productive conflict and tapping into team members' perspectives and opinions, a team can confidently commit and buy in to a decision knowing that they have benefitted from everyone's ideas. 

4. Lack of Commitment: 4th Failure of a Team

Another big challenge in a team progressing towards a common goal is lack of commitment towards a plan. Commitment that the team will allocate all efforts and resources towards fulfilling the duties and achieving the end goal. For that team collectively works out any underlying problem, buy in completely to the decision made. Also, consensus is not something we should expect when multiple people are involved. There are times when you will disagree with something, it's not pleasing to your ears but if it's reasonable enough to be done for greater good. Only when everyone has put their opinions and perspectives on the table can the team confidently commit to a decision knowing that it has tapped into the collective wisdom of the entire group.

As a team member, it's the duty to commit and work towards. Any individual however talented has no place in the team without achievement of result. A committed team creates clarity around directions and priorities. They move forward without hesitation.

5. The last failure of any team is avoiding accountability

Once we achieve clarity, and buy in, it is then that we have to hold each other accountable for what we sign up to do. For high standards of performance and behaviour. As simple as it may sound, but most of us hate interpersonal discomfort. It can be as difficult to let someone know that - sending or reading emails during project discussion is totally unacceptable. Forgetting to follow up for documents post closure of a deal is unacceptable. It's also unacceptable to not put your best efforts, which will lead your team towards the ultimate goal. Have we ever driven a car with a punctured wheel, it won’t go far. Ultimately, we have to stop and replace the wheel. If you are part of such a team, or you are managing a team, where you see people without accountability, replace it. 

I am sure, as a team member or as a manager, we all want functional teams. So, while we aspire to be part of such teams, let's prioritize being such team members ourselves. Let’s voice our opinion whenever its needed. Let’s speak up, respectful but without fear of conflict. It’s okay to have uncomfortable moments rather than a wrong environment. Let's take accountability of our actions, if it’s not aligned towards a goal, something is terribly wrong. Pause and course correct. A result oriented, motivated and functional team is not a dream but it can be easily achieved by just small amount of effort and willingness.