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What do dysfunctional teams look like?

Unfortunately, many of us have experienced working in a dysfunctional team at least once. However, with the increasing use of teams, effective teamwork has become a critical ingredient for organisational success. But what make a team less functional than they could be?

According to Lencioni (2002) there are five factors that cause a team to be dysfunctional. These are: an absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. Whilst these five factors may seem to be distinct issues, Lencioni argues that they are heavily interrelated. This article will take a look at how these factors interrelate with each other and how to overcome them.

Absence of trust

In team settings, trust refers to team member confidence, positive team intentions and the willingness to be vulnerable amongst members. When an absence of trust is evident in a team, there are numerous consequences. This can include:

  • Limited constructive feedback
  • Concealed mistakes and weaknesses
  • Negative relationships and grudges are commonly held

To overcome a lack of team trust, there are multiple approaches organisations can take. Firstly, it is encouraged that organisations implement 360-degree feedback tools. These tools can be a powerful method for building trust in teams as they promote transparent communication and ensure that team members are more comfortable being vulnerable around each other.

Secondly, trust can be promoted through workforce training on personality profiles. By helping employees to develop a stronger understanding of their colleagues’ personalities, they will be more emotionally intelligent. Consequently, the credibility of team members can be maximised.

Fear of conflict

The second factor of team dysfunction is a fear of conflict. Whilst an absence of conflict in team settings may sound seemingly ideological, conflict is necessary for producing healthy debate and critically evaluating ideas. Typically, teams that have an absence of trust are likely to also fear conflict as team members are less willing and confident to share different ideas or provide feedback.

To promote healthy conflict in team settings, it is recommended that organisations continue to develop the emotional intelligence of employees. By building the emotional intelligence of their workforce, conflict is less likely to get out of hand, meaning less team members will fear it.

Lack of commitment

Another factor that undermines the effective functioning of teams is a lack of commitment. A lack of commitment is a common consequence of a lack of trust and conflict in team settings as team members have less passionately expressed their ideas. By feeling uncomfortable to present ideas that they are passionate about, team members are likely to be less committed to the course of action.

On top of promoting healthy conflict and trust to build the commitment of team members, there are also other approaches. In particular, setting deadlines and encouraging team members to nominate which task they would be most interested in being responsible for are effective ways of building commitment.

Avoidance of accountability

When there is a lack of commitment towards a course of action, team members typically feel less accountable for the risk of failure. This leads to counterproductive behaviours that undermine the success of the team project.

To maximise the accountability of team members and promote team efficiency, it is recommended that teams take the time to develop goals and expectations before commencing the project.

Inattention to results

The final factor of team dysfunction is an inattention to results. This factor refers to the tendency of members to care about something other than the shared goals of the team. This dysfunction thrives in organisational environments where team members are assessed individually rather than being assessed on their overall group performance.

Evidently, any one of these five factors could be detrimental to the performance of a team. Can you pinpoint which one caused your dysfunctional team experience?


Reference: Lencioni, Patrick M. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team : A Leadership Fable, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/qut/detail.action?docID=292516

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