Team Dysfunction

Bruce Tuckman, a psychologist who provided us with an understanding of the five-team building stages, which are forming, norming, storming, performing, and adjourning explains that all teams go through these stages with varying levels of intensity.  Forming is defined as where the team being formed learns about their task and operation parameters while beginning to develop interpersonal behaviors.  The storming stage is where dissonance and intergroup conflicts among the groups as they jockey to retain their individualism and control.  The norming stage is when group members start to accept each other and build interpersonal in-group parity.  The performing stage is where group members operate on all cylinders by working together solving problems and creating solutions that take them to task completion.  The adjourning stage is defined as where the task(s) is completed and the team dissolves their in-group activities, which can be emotionally difficult for team members.

However, if a team has a continuous or long-term assignment, they may suffer from team dysfunction at any time, even if they are in the performing stage.  Writer and business consultant Patrick Lencioni’s, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team does a good job of explaining the challenges that teams face.  So, how does one identify team dysfunction and the degree to which a team is out of sync?

Lencioni provides five insightful questions to identify team dysfunction and its level of intensity.

  1. Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  2. Are team members compelling and productive?
  3. Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  4. Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  5. Do team members sacrifice their own interest for the good of the team?

The premise is that a highly effective team should be able to answer “yes’ to all of these questions.  For example, in questions number 1 and number 4, if ‘yes’ was the answer, one might conclude these are components for high performing teams.  If team members answered ‘yes’ to questions 2 and 3, then that would suggest that team members perceive their team as high performing.  Lastly, with question 5, we might conclude that a team responding with ‘yes’ here might be led by either a transformational leader, who develops team members who place the needs of the organization before their own or a servant leader, who by example places his or her follower’s needs before their own.  Answers of “no’ indicate issues that can further degrade the team’s ability to function effectively.

Patrick Lencioni lays out the five dysfunctions as the following

  1. Absence of trust – suggests that team members are not at ease sharing their vulnerabilities, or owning up to shortcomings and mistakes, or they perceive that asking for assistance would be comprehended as weakness.
  2. Fear of conflict – suggests that team members are reticent to engage in discourse, perceiving all dissonance as destructive and not constructive. Their perception does not allow an environment of emotional intelligence in regards to openness.
  3. Lack of commitment – suggests team members struggle to engage in effective and efficient decision-making, which in turn creates an environment of ambiguity. As we know, people and cultures have various tolerances for ambiguity, which when their cup is full, it may drive them to be disgruntled and unfulfilled. This mental state negatively influences the need for achievement.
  4. Avoidance of accountability – suggests that team members become complacent and individualistic when the team suffers from an evasion of culpability. The avoidance therefore inhibits productivity as members fail to fully engage.
  5. Inattention to results – suggests this is where team members are no longer an effective team where each members’ individual needs become greater than the needs of the whole. This then fosters burnout where team members feel unappreciated, out-of-balance, and out-of-control.

In closing, high-performing teams require mutual trust and respect between its members.  High-performing teams must have shared goals, be willing to learn from each other, and be self-disciplined to self-monitor their team’s performance.  If you have any questions or comments, please email me at mquaintance@keiseruniversity.edu.

Mike “Q” Quaintance, MBA

Keiser University, Business Department Chair