Teams – Six Signs of Dysfunction

Posted on 24th March 2021

In our work at DDC, we come across many examples of teams that are not working to their optimal capacity. Usually, the tensions show up in a number of ways which eventually lead to a toxic culture, unhappy people and an erosion of the ties that create productive and high achieving organisations.

These are the tell-tale signs:

1.    Poor communications

This means either the tone, processes or content of communication is not appropriate. Meetings may be non-existent or poorly organised and most forms of communication will be problematic rather than fostering a team spirit. 

2.    Divisive leaders

Put simply divisive leaders create divided teams. Some leaders recreate toxic family scenarios in the workplace. They may have team members that are treated as the  good child or the naughty child, or they may create villain and victim dynamics. This plays into a divide and rule drama which is unhealthy and psychologically damaging and ultimately counterproductive.

3.    Information hoarders

This is the tendency to treat information as treasured personal possessions. It is deliberately and wilfully withheld or exploited to the detriment of the team.  Some team members treat sharing information as a tool to exert power, influence and to undermine the ability of their colleagues to shine. It is also evident in team members with expertise withholding that expertise so that they do not acquire knowledge and remain reliant on the  holder of the expertise.

4.    Gossip and back-biting

This is a key marker of toxicity. This is not casual tittle tattle, it’s corrosive, insidious and very similar to bullying. This may be a hidden problem especially in large organisations when different groups and subgroups naturally occur. The key indicators for this is when people’s personal life is treated as fodder for malicious comments, where disparaging remarks (beyond harmless banter) are the norm and where there is a widespread absence of trust.

5.    Lack of clarity in business goals

This is an inevitable consequence of problematic communications and the other signs noted here. The end result is usually muddled, and demotivated staff and leaders and managers seen as out of touch and frankly highly ineffectual.

6.    Inadequate focus on training and development

A commitment to training and developing people is one of the hallmarks of a well-run organisation that is committed to collective learning, continuously improving with high regard for team working. It follows that in an organisation in which teamwork has been allowed to take the back seat, training and development is unlikely to have been prioritised.

The good news is that happy and motivated teams can be achieved through the application of good leadership and management practice. After all, happy teams should be a priority not just to enhance productivity but for rewarding personal and professional lives.

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