Diagnosing and Fixing Dysfunctional Teams: When to Rebuild Your Team from The Ground Up

Five Steps to Fix Five Team Dysfunctions That Will Damage Your Business

When your team is playing at the top of its game and highly motivated, everything seems to go right. Your players gel, and on-field chemistry translates into perfect play, goals scored, and points amassed. Functional teams give you a huge competitive advantage.

Should the wheels come off, and your team stop working as a team, the effects can be disastrous. A dysfunctional team will cause big problems your business – just like it does to sports teams.

Five examples of the cost of dysfunctional teams 

Even the most successful teams can fall flat on their face. Suddenly, you find there is unhealthy conflict, a lack of trust, inattention to detail and results, and a lack of commitment to the cause. Whether in business or sports, the results can be disastrous, as these five examples show.

  1. Absence of trust: The Knicks

In 2013, Tim Hardaway was drafted into the Knicks. Immediately friction between him and Carmelo Anthony surfaced. Anthony was the star and believed that Hardaway wasn’t ready. It was clear that tension between the two was high, and neither trusted their coach’s tactics. Hardaway accused Anthony of taking too many shots, and Anthony responded by saying that Hardaway hadn’t earned his place in the team. 

Their teammates had to separate them when a fight threatened between the two. The trust issues between them were a key reason the Knicks never made it to the top before Hardaway left in 2015.

  1. Fear of conflict: Kodak

In the 70s and 80s, Kodak was the world leader in the photography market. There wasn’t a company that came close to them in sales of cameras, photographic equipment, and film. Then, it all went bang! What happened? Digital photography, though the story is much more complicated.

Kodak was so complacent in its market that it failed to adapt to and adopt digital – despite that its research and development team invented the first digital camera! The real problem was that its leadership team was too scared to rock the boat of its revenues and profits. The rest is history. By the time they came on board with digital, it was too late – their bankruptcy had been sealed.

  1. Lack of accountability: Borders Books

Borders Books were huge, but, like Kodak, they failed to recognize that the book industry was changing. When they eventually did and decided to sell books online, they handed over the responsibility to Amazon. Their lack of accountability eventually led to the closure of more than 650 stores.

  1. Lack of commitment: Florida Marlins

The Florida Marlins steamrollered the 1997 season with a 92-70 record to secure a wildcard berth. The future looked more than bright. But the next season was a disaster, posting their worst ever record of 54-108. What went wrong? A lack of commitment. The owners gutted the team to remove $40 million from the payroll. If you can’t commit to keeping your best players, don’t expect great results.

  1. Lack of team spirit: LA Lakers

2000 to 2002 – the golden years for the LA Lakers. Then it started to fall apart. First, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were teamed together with Malone and Payton. O’Neal and Bryant never got on. They played for individual goals rather than collective success. Their ego-centric play permeated the whole team. Players and coaches became frustrated. Unhealthy conflict ruled. There was a lack of cooperation, teamwork, and leadership which characterized the team’s eventual slow demise.

How do you fix a dysfunctional team?

If your team is showing signs of dysfunction, it’s important to act quickly. You must give it purpose, define roles, and help to embed a team spirit in which everyone is working toward a common goal, and not acting as separated individuals.

Here are five steps to build (or rebuild) your team from the ground up.

  1. Establish your team’s purpose and roles within it

Develop collective goals and set the direction of the team. Do this with your team, and allow them to have their say as you define the plan together.

With the plan decided, define the role of each team member, and ensure they understand how they must work together without overlapping on tasks and individual responsibility. This will help to reduce conflict.

  1. Develop team bonds and a working agreement

Use team building strategies and social time to help your team get to know each other and develop bonds between them.

Simultaneously, set rules for how the team should work together. This includes how they should communicate, how they collaborate, the systems used to manage projects, and how conflicts are to be resolved.

  1. Recognize and reward the team effort

Celebrate individual success and share how they have been aided by teamwork – and how they contribute to team goals. Always ensure that the team effort is rewarded, and reinforce that no individual is bigger than the team.

  1. Learn from failures

Never apportion blame to an individual, but use failures as springboards for team learning. Take time to learn the root cause, and depersonalize it. Instead of asking ‘who’s fault is this?’ ask ‘how do we improve our processes or systems to makes sure this doesn’t happen again?’.

  1. Provide a forum for team feedback

Finally, make certain that the team has a forum in which it is safe for them to be open and honest, examine how they are working well together, what isn’t working, and to develop solutions to improve the team.

Conflict doesn’t need to be destructive

As a leader, teambuilding is your responsibility. Lead by example and allow others to have their say, making sure that all voices are treated equally. Remember, too, that conflict does not have to be destructive. Healthy conflict can ignite discussion and innovation, energize the team effort, and unite people in the collective goals and the road to get there.

If there is still dysfunction within your team, then you must go back to the drawing board. You’ll need to identify what element of your team is causing disharmony, address the situation, and possibly let that person go. 

The good news? This gives you a new opportunity to build from the ground up. In our next article, we examine how to hire the right person.

Are you ready to reshape a dysfunctional team? Take the Entrepreneur Assessment today – and learn the personality traits that will work to your advantage.

Remember, too, that we are here for you. All you need to do is to reach out to us with any questions that you have.


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