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.