Tag Archives: leadership

Why Teams Become Dysfunctional and How to Change It

If you are reading this article, chances are you’re experiencing a few problems with your team and want to know how to change it.  My aim with this blog therefore, is to give you an insight into some of the predominant dysfunctional behaviours, the underlying causes and what to do about it.

“For every effect there is a root cause.  Find and address the root cause rather than try to fix the effect, as there is no end to the latter”  Celestine Chua

If you want to witness the performance of a highly functioning team, you simply have to turn the sports channel on the television and watch a great soccer match, netball or AFL game; any high achieving sports team for that matter.   This is where you will see the result of a huge amount of planning, training, grit and determination.  You see what works and what doesn’t. Remember though, it’s easy to see that from the sideline, much more difficult when you are in the team.  If a high performing team isn’t achieving at the highest level, you can probably see where they drop the ball. You likely won’t know why though, unless you go deeper into the functioning of the team.

There would be no premiership medallions without tremendous initial teamwork…


Some of you may have been part of a great team so know first-hand what it feels like and what it takes to create it. It’s a fact that having a highly functioning team will give you the ultimate competitive advantage because it’s a strength that comes from within.  It’s not something that people can just create a carbon copy of because so much of it is about the attitudes of the individuals involved.  Sure, there is skill involved, but this is only about 20% of the equation. High performing teams are able to achieve more than the individual parts. Significantly more.  If you have a team of 5 that are high performing, this team could produce the same amount as a dysfunctional team of 8 or 10. That’s the effect of teamwork.

So what are some of the dysfunctional behaviours you may observe in a work team?

  • People don’t admit their mistakes
  • Look for someone else to blame
  • Cover up for their weaknesses, not admitting they are struggling
  • Don’t ask for help
  • Keep their cards close to their chest

No. 1 Root Cause of these behaviours stems from a lack of trust.


So how do you change this?

Something I find useful when trying to find solutions like this, is to think about what it is in people that cause me to trust them. What behaviours and traits do they possess that are trustworthy?

For me, one of the key attributes is when people are non-judgemental; when they listen and allow you to finish, when they don’t tell you what to do; rather they ask you what you want to do about it. You see when you listen to someone, really listen and give them the time of day, you send such a positive message that they’re important.  When someone feels important to you, they will share more of themselves.

So if I (the leader) sense there is a lack of trust in the team, I will be the one to start being more open, admitting mistakes, asking for help, giving people my time and encouraging open talk.  As a leader, you can’t expect the team to be more open and transparent if you aren’t.  I have met leaders that think they can keep things close to their chest and that no one is the wiser, but, people can see, and do sense, and trust is a sense. Building trust always starts with the leader.

“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for teams to work” – Warren Bennis


Other behaviours you might see:

  • Gossip
  • Passive behaviour and don’t discuss differences of opinions openly
  • Talk about problems and people behind their backs, never addressing it directly
  • Underperformance

These behaviours stem from a fear of speaking up for fear of conflict.


What to do about it…

This is a big problem for teams.  I’ve often heard leaders say that all they want is for people to get on with their jobs, though they sense an underlying disharmony without managing to put their finger on the problem.

High Performing teams will have conflict; it wouldn’t be a high performing team if it didn’t.  The difference is however, a successful team can air their grievances because someone will listen and hopefully change things.  The focus of these conversations is to discuss, debate and solve problems, not to make the other person wrong and themselves right.

Therefore I would work on building trust and then create more opportunities for free flowing conversation.  You might want to consider a team day with a particular focus on trust, conflict and assertive communication.  Dealing with conflict generally makes most people uncomfortable. However if you have a proven formula that works, it can make all the difference.

Now, just because you have an open dialogue, doesn’t mean you will always get your own way. But when the reasoning behind why a person feels the way they do, or why they made a particular decision is communicated clearly and openly, this goes a long way to understanding and acceptance.

When people understand “The Why” they will follow, even if at times they don’t agree.  When people are kept in the dark they often become suspicious. When this happens, a lack of trust prevails.

Other behaviours you might see in a dysfunctional team are:

  • Inability to make decisions
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of direction
  • Not achieving KPI’s or goals

These behaviours can stem from self-doubt and/or unclear job roles or expectations.  They may also be unclear about the vision, purpose and goals.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” —Henry Ford


So how do you change it?

If a person is suffering from self-doubt I would encourage you (the leader) to have a conversation.  Point out that you value them as part of the team, however you’ve noticed that when it comes to decision making. they seem to falter.  Be prepared with a couple of specific examples and ask them what’s causing this. Then listen for the answer.  Do not make suggestions about why it is happening, allow them to speak up.  What might come up from this discussion is that they didn’t realise or understand the expectations that were placed on them.  In this case, you can go back to the clarity of role description, KPI’s and accountabilities.  They may respond with they don’t have enough information, or that they are unsure about what to do, but unless you listen you will not find out.  That’s why I emphasise the fact that you must listen to their answer and not give your reasons.

If people are unclear about the vision, goals and purpose of an organisation, it’s the leader’s job to clearly articulate this.  However I’d like to suggest a better way, which is to get them involved in creating the vision, goals etc if possible.  When people are involved in these processes they will be far more engaged and motivated to achieve the end result because they were part of the plan.

“Many people are unmotivated, not because they have a great reason to be, but rather because they have not been given a great reason to be motivated & engaged.”


For further information I would recommend “The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams” Patrick Lencioni. A great read that will further elaborate on the points I’ve made in this article.

If you have any other problems you are facing with your team please send through an email. I’d be more than happy to help.


How to be a Constructive Leader: 4 areas to focus on

Not so long ago, leadership was solely based on your position or title. It was expected that you would use the authority associated with that title to recruit, direct, control and dismiss the workers under you. You were required to promote (if possible), discipline, and reprimand the ones that didn’t perform as directed. Many workers were required to perform relatively unchallenging tasks and were easily replaceable. Money was the key incentive used to motivate staff.

Some of you reading this article may have experienced this type of leadership. The effects are generally very negative on all people concerned, including the leader. Some of those effects are:

  • You will develop staff that are overly dependent and are unable to take any action without permission
  • Workers act out their resentment toward the leader by indirectly defying his/her authority.
  • Workers can become overly critical and competitive with each other
  • High turnover rates within an organisation

These effects are destructive and go a long way to stifling creativity and provoking “dissension in the ranks”


So what has changed in modern times?

Two things in particular:

  1. The need for organisations to do more with less, innovate and compete in an ever-changing global market.
  2. The needs and expectations of the people started changing.

70 years ago Abraham Maslow suggested that people wanted to feel fulfilled and energised by their work. They wanted to contribute, feel valued and make a difference. Both employees and organisations alike are coming to understand this fully.

Leaders have had to learn to embrace the people as their most important asset. I’d like to suggest that future leaders in all workplaces will be required not just to have strong minds, but also generous and caring hearts

“In the past a leader was a boss. Today’s leaders must be partners with their people, they no longer can lead solely based on positional power.” Ken Blanchard


So What is Constructive Leadership?

Constructive leadership is having a balance between achieving the task and managing the people. Knowing how to achieve the task with the people, knowing how to adapt your behavioural preferences to suit the preferences of the people you are working with. It’s having an encouraging and inspiring communication style that supports people to challenge their own thinking, to push the boundaries with creativity and objectivity. It’s to approach life and business energetically and with strong instincts and intuition.


Let me share a personal story with you.

I was working with the General Manager of a nickel mine in the Gold Fields. This Manager had come from a well-established mine site in Africa and knew there were better ways of mapping the mine, whereby more information could be taken from the one plan.

So he assigned the task to a key planner that he believed had the ability to stretch his current way of thinking. He explained that there were better ways of mapping the mine and more ways of uncovering vital information to ensure efficient and effective extraction of the ore. The GM funded a new software program and explained the type of information he wanted to extract and then handed the project over to the planner. He gave him the tools, gave him a scope of what he wanted and basically left it up to him to create.

When I came for my monthly visit, this leader gave up his own coaching hour for his planner because he wanted me to hear firsthand what this guy had created. He was absolutely thrilled with what he had achieved.

When I sat with the planner his story was so inspirational because not only had he created what he had been asked for, he had gone above and beyond and created a map and plan that well exceeded the GM’s expectations. The benefits for the entire mine was that they were able to extract far more information, setting them up to be far more accurate in their drilling exploits.

Truly I was so inspired by the whole story so I asked the planner;

“What’s it like to work for Martin? (the GM)”  His response was –

“I love coming to work. I love every day here. I love working with Martin – he believes in me, he challenges me, but gives me the freedom to figure out how I can challenge the boundaries. I feel very privileged to work with such a great bloke.”

Can you imagine how productive this mine site was? Martin didn’t need to force people to work, he was able to inspire his workers through;

  • Genuine interest in his people – he got to know them personally, not by going to the pub for a beer, but by getting to know about their families, their hobbies, what they loved and what they disliked about their work.
  • Setting challenging goals, with the team, and with his belief in the people, they produced amazing results. He even nominated this planner for a town employee award.

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders” – Tom Peters

Having a clear vision and believing in your team will lead to incredible results.


What Can You Do To Achieve This as a leader?

Now that question is for you, because I’m sure you know the answer. However, as I’m writing this article, I will respond with how I would do it.

I always suggest firstly to find out where you currently are, what are your strengths, what are you good at, and ensure you do more of that. Identify the areas that you want to develop and learn ways of doing that. *Get feedback and measure how you are tracking.

Let’s use my logo (a tetrahedron) as a prop for explaining the 4 key points of leadership. *A tetrahedron is the strongest minimal structure – shaped like a pyramid, with 4 points and 4 vectors or 4 equal sides. Each vector must be equal in length, width and strength as the other three sides. If you were to then put downward pressure on any one of the points the structure will not collapse.


The 4 Key Points of Constructive Leadership:


1. Set a Shared Vision and Goals

Live and breathe the vision so people will be inspired by it. Focus on a standard of achieving excellence, and have a desire to continually challenge the status quo.

Set realistic, attainable, yet challenging goals. Lead by example. You cannot fake this; you must live and breathe it. Deal with conflict directly, rationally and encourage input from team members.

2. Be Self-actualised

That is be confident, be self-aware, believe in yourself and your capacity. Have an energetic, exciting approach to life, with a strong desire to know about and experience things directly. Be open minded, respect others differences. Your zest for life will be contagious.

3. Be the Coach

Enjoy developing people by having a genuine interest in enabling them to be the best they can be. Be open and accepting of people’s differences. Be patient with each individual’s gestation time i.e time it takes to grow and develop. Be willing to have your own beliefs and values challenged, demonstrate humility. Develop unique ways of involving individuals and teams in solving problems. Ask questions and seek to understand rather than be judgemental and critical.

4. Appreciate the value of relationships

Have excellent interpersonal relationships, appreciate people, and establish strong emotional and social ties. Be relaxed and comfortable in your own skin in crowds. Don’t feel you need to entertain others; it’s more about listening and getting to know people. Emphasise the value of teams and diversity. Have highly tuned

Don’t feel you need to entertain others; it’s more about listening and getting to know people. Emphasise the value of teams and diversity. Have highly tuned communication skills.

“Leaders do not avoid, repress, or deny conflict, but rather see it as an opportunity.” Warren Bennis


For some, you might feel you are already well on the road to constructive leadership, for others it might seem an endless journey.

As Lao Tzu, said,

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Brian Tracy said

“If you want to get really good at something, do something about it every day for 10 years and at the end of that time you will be an expert”.

I have personally experienced this journey developing myself as a coach, establishing my business 16 years ago and with the thought that if I did something, learned something new every day for 10 years I will be an expert. I’m still on the journey but I know a hell of a lot more than I knew 16 years ago.

My advice to you; Start your journey today. You won’t regret it.