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Feb 16, 2024 Leslie Beale, PCC, JD

Three Signs Your Team May Be Headed for Dysfunction

It happened again.

Doug sat in the conference room surrounded by his leadership team. After asking what he thought was a simple question, he was met with quiet stares. This had been a regular occurrence since he’d been tasked with quickly turning around the operations of a major business unit in his company.

He had tried scheduling meetings on different days and at different times, and even brought in a catered lunch. Always the same response: awkward silence. What in the world was going on here? Doug knew the team was in trouble, and he also knew he had to get clear on the cause before moving forward.

After Doug began exploring the history of his team, he started putting the pieces together. Like a canary in a coal mine, there had been signs of unrest, but problems had been handed off, put off, or simply ignored. Three key factors of effective teamwork were damaged: trust, communication, and engagement. Doug only hoped he hadn’t made the discovery too late.

1. Lack of Trust

All good teams are built on a foundation of trust. Without it, all other functions of the team will be affected—morale, productivity, decision-making, and more. In Doug’s case, his top leaders were exhibiting less-than-professional behaviors such as spreading gossip within the office, interrupting Doug to “tattle” on each other, and backchanneling during team meetings via chat and text messages. 

According to Edelmen’s 2022 Trust Barometer, 69% of employees surveyed felt that their co-workers provided a “significant source of community” within their lives. These are more than just warm-and-fuzzy feelings--they directly affect engagement. When team members don’t trust one another, the lack of camaraderie can cause stress, disrupt productivity, and batter morale. Any behaviors that indicate team members don’t trust each other are a sure sign that dysfunction is on its way, and must be addressed immediately.

2. Poor Communication

Miscommunication on teams can show up in big ways and small--from water cooler gossip, to outright bullying. According to a 2021 study by SoftActivity, 80% of employees feel anxiety in the workplace due to ineffective company communication. Unclear emails, misunderstood comments, or limited or missing feedback are just a few of the examples of communication missteps which can occur verbally or non-verbally. A lack of healthy communication, no matter how it shows up, a can cripple a team’s work flow, focus, and trajectory.

In Doug’s case, miscommunication came in the form of no communication. His top managers opted for silence. The origins of this behavior? After experiencing a series of bad leaders, the group learned that it was simpler just to keep their mouths shut than it was to risk being berated for their ideas or contributions.

3. Lowered Engagement

If you have a team that consistently loses their A-Players, it’s time to ask some tough questions.  Top performers and high achievers have a low tolerance for drama and inefficiency, as Doug discovered when he examined the team’s rate of turnover for the last five years. Shockingly, it was nearly double the rest of the organization.

Statistics have shown that employees who experience good teamwork and communication are 4.5 times more likely to stay in their jobs. When a malfunctioning team causes the careers of your top employees to stagnate, however, it won’t be long before they head for the door. An additional threat: the problem may become cyclical, as a team with high turnover is likely to perform worse over time. If you’re lucky enough to attract competitive talent, it may be an uphill battle to retain them.

Getting His Team Unstuck

Doug knew he had to repair his broken team. The warning bells of disrupted trust, impaired communication, and departing talent had fallen upon deaf ears, resulting in a slow bleed of time, resources, and money. Before Doug could move the needle in his newly-assigned business unit he had to invest costly time and dollars into repairing years of misaligned relationships. Even worse, it was a problem that could have been prevented. Not giving up on his team’s potential, however, Doug invested the effort. The results benefited his organization long after the initiative was complete—and brought Doug a promotion.  

Are you seeing one, or all, of these telltale signs of within your teams? If you suspect that your organization is struggling with ineffective or dysfunctional teams (or if you’re not sure), don’t wait. Book a call today.

Published by Leslie Beale, PCC, JD February 16, 2024
Leslie Beale, PCC, JD