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The Path from Dysfunctional to Functional

teamsUtilizing your team to drive business and maintain productivity is the goal of building a team in the first place. But sometimes, the grand dream of teamwork becomes a nightmare. When this happens, how can you get your team back on track and better than they were before?

The first step is to identify the signs that your team is dysfunctional; you may not even realize that the actual state of things unless you are monitoring your team to see if they are experiencing temporary difficulties, or if they are truly not working together anymore. The International Institute of Management lists many symptoms of a dysfunctional team, among them

  • Ineffective meetings
  • Negative office politics and backstabbing
  • Continual crisis mode
  • Looking good instead of acting effectively
  • People leaving the company

When these sort of things are happening around you, the work atmosphere has become toxic, and it’s only a matter of time until it explodes.

The journey back to functionality takes time, but your team will come out of it stronger than before.

It’s necessary to start out with an atmosphere of security: people who are scared of losing their jobs are going to do anything to keep themselves safe—and that’s not going to be what’s best for the team as a whole. Maybe later in the process you will find that one person is bringing down the group and it will be necessary to remove them, but at the beginning, your team needs to know that they are in a place where they can ask questions, talk about conflicts, and bring up alternate ideas for the future without being afraid of recrimination or condescension. If you just fire the troublemakers from the beginning, you’re only getting rid of a symptom of a nonfunctioning system, and within months, that system will produce another troublemaker. (And who’s to say the person causing turmoil isn’t actually the person brave enough to stand up and point out where things need to be fixed?)

This leads into the next step, improving communication. Many teams become dysfunctional because members are unclear on their roles, hear different information from different sources, and as a result are unable to rely on their leaders or colleagues. If you are working on a project, share as much information as you can with your team; refuse to let rumors and confusion grow. When they are allowed to sprout, your team members will start working in opposite directions, to the detriment of the entire team.

Last of all, make sure that your team members know they are valued. Validate their efforts to let them know when they are on the right track, and acknowledge them for jobs well done—not only will they feel appreciated, but you will get more productivity out of them when they trust themselves and the skills you hired them for in order to perform excellently. There is nothing that kills morale faster than knowing there is no light at the end of the tunnel when they’re having a hard workday, so figure out appropriate rewards for the goals they meet, both individually and together as a team.

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  1. Tammy Redmon

    June 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Good post and points on transforming a team. I am curious though, how do you suggest creating an environment or “atmosphere of security”? You mention the point, and I wonder what you suggest for creating it.  I like that you open up communication as the second point – studies do show that underperformance on a team is often attributed to lack of communication. 

  2. Beth A Miller, CMC

    July 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm


    My experience with creating security is providing two things.  One is keeping your promises.  If people can’t trust you to deliver on your promises than they aren’t going to feel secure. The second is backing up your employees.  Failure should be embraced by leaders.  Obviously failure should come with learning and the same mistake made multiple times is another issue.  But allowing people to fail and learn from the mistake is probably the most powerful learning tool. And when failure is perceived as a learning opportunity, people feel more secure in taking risks.

    Thanks for the question!



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