Red Flag Signs of a Failing Team

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You can invest in fantastic business communication materials, a fabulous cutting edge redesigned office and even recruit the best and brightest talent. However, all of it comes to a head if your team members aren’t cooperating to the benefit of the team. Despite your best efforts to build a business, your business will be compromised if the people in your team are simply dysfunctional. So how do you know if you’re team is dysfunctional?

Inc. Magazine recently looked at three profiles of disturbed teams, highlighting chief among them the “Bickering Undertakers” who are characterized as being “crippled by passive-aggressive office politics and/or personal agendas, bogged down by unending autopsies of recent and not-so-recent mishaps, dropped balls and outright catastrophes, this team can’t dwell on anything current or future for five minutes without someone turning the dial pack to the past.” Author Les McKeown adds to the list the “Grind-it-out Tacticians,” defined by people who are essentially consumed by a need for execution at any expense. They don’t learn from the past and they don’t build flexible models for the future. Lastly, Les describes the “Blue-sky Optimists,” who are crippling in their own way. This type is so visionary, so fixated on possibility, that nothing really gets done in real-time. This latter group is the trickiest. Their enthusiasm is seductive, they’re “invigorating to be involved with, at least for a while,” but their lack of progress is what has this type of dysfunctional team nose dive the quickest.

Interestingly, a failing team isn’t necessarily pock-marked with bitter resentment. As Les points out, they can be goal oriented like the tacticians or visionaries like the optimists, but at the end of the day, they all are so entrenched in one way of seeing and doing things that they invariably become parasitic to themselves and the growth of a product, project, or brand.

There are still other signs of poor teamwork, including blame, misunderstanding, ignorance, a lack of respect or appreciation for fellow teammates, and poor communication. Here’s where it becomes crucial to recognize the difference between a team, a group, and a collection of people. David Chaudron, PhD, identifies distinguishing markers with identity, interdependence, relationships, and task accomplishment. He adds, “If a collection of people don’t identify themselves as a unit and others don’t as well, they don’t depend on each other, there is a minimal relationship and they don’t have a common task to accomplish, they’re just a bunch.  One example of a bunch might be a collection of strangers waiting for a bus. On the other end of the spectrum, teams have all these aspects. Groups have some of these characteristics (relationships, for example), but don’t necessary band together to accomplish a task.”

Moving beyond team failure includes conflict resolution skills, clear priority identification, and support from senior management in assessing bottleneck areas that might be choking progress. Even if a team leader doesn’t come forward or if there are no clear signs of dysfunction, management should be able to spot a problem if there’s a “sudden drop in productivity, or a gradual decline over time.” Dr. Chaudron argues that the problem is usually rooted in communication flow barriers, adding that “if the information system does not allow people to collaborate effectively, they will continue to remain isolated despite the best team building [efforts].” Another great tip for moving forward also comes from Les, who recommends setting adjustable time limits per discussions so one topic becomes the center point of any team meeting.

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