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What is a dysfunctional team?

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

You may have what you believe to be the perfect Agile team in place. You have studied the principles and been trained on the practices. You have aligned what you believe to be the right people with the right skills. Yet, inevitably sometimes when it comes to implementation, the team still fails. When this happens, more often than not the root cause is the team itself and the dysfunctions within it. If you haven't read the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, you should I highly recommend it.

So how do I know if have dysfunctional teams?

A dysfunctional team can present itself in a number of different ways. After all, it is made up of unique individuals with unique and fluid behaviors. However, there are a number of common signs that you can look out for. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Incomplete work/tasks that are pushed back to the next iteration/sprint.

  • Lack of camaraderie between team members.

  • Low motivation.

  • Unwillingness to accept change within either the tasks or the team.

  • Cliques or a clear divide within the team.

  • Stale, quiet working atmosphere.

If your team is expressing two or more of these signs and the quality of their work is suffering then it is vital to intervene to address the problems at hand.

What are the causes of dysfunctional teams?

There are a great number of elements that can influence team behavior and in many cases, dysfunctional teams are caused by an accumulation of difficulties within the members and there is rarely just one root cause. This is where Agile coaches can be a huge benefit to your business as they are experts at identifying obstacles and guiding teams to find the best way to remove or get around the problems. However there are certain behaviors that are commonly found in dysfunctional teams and we will take a brief look at them and how they impact on performance.

Avoidance of accountability

It is a natural human reaction to fear failure, and in business this often translates into a fear or avoidance of accountability. When something goes wrong it takes a significant amount of courage to hold your hands up and admit that you have made a mistake, and this can discourage many people from taking ownership of their tasks. Agile believes in encouraging an environment that focuses on learning and taking positives from mistakes, and working towards a collective goal rather than pointing the finger at individuals.

Fear of conflict

Conflict doesn’t have to be negative and in the workplace it can help team members develop their skills and learn from one another. Fear of conflict can stop productive ideological conflict from taking place, and prevent team members from holding one another accountable for their tasks and the overall project.

Politically-motivated behavior

Office politics can be one of the key influences of dysfunctional teams. You can often tell if politics are in play when team members choose their words or actions based upon how they want other people to react rather than what they truly think. This can be easier to spot in more vocal team members as they were probably more forthcoming with a different opinion earlier in the project. It can also be spotted in those who react to an individual’s rank rather than the value of their contribution to the team. Whispering, cliques and the sudden stop and topic change in conversations are also indicators of politically-motivated behavior which can make or break your project. Your Agile coach or Scrum Master is best placed to help you identify and eliminate any politics that are affecting your team.

Individual rather than team orientated behavior

You may think you have a team when in fact you have a group. The difference between the two comes down to one thing – whether the individuals are striving towards their own personal goals rather than the collective team objective. If you have team members who are disinterested in team discussions, or who are only willing to discuss their own ideas, opinions and progress, then you may have found an “I” in your team. And if you have more than one ‘I’ within your team, then you probably just have a group instead. In an effective high-performing team, all members are interested in achieving the collective goal. Motivating your team by setting performance objectives and individual targets that are aligned with the collective team goal can help improve this behavior.

When should I address dysfunction issues?

Ideally the best time to address dysfunction issues is during retrospectives. However, often the key behaviors that are causing dysfunction are prevalent in retrospectives too, causing a lack of focus that means that the critical issues aren’t sufficiently addressed and beginning the cycle all over again. Overcoming team dysfunction takes time, patience and good coaching. It could take days, weeks or even months before you notice a real difference in your team. However with an expert Agile coach guiding them, your team can go from dysfunctional to maximum velocity.

#Teams #gelling #gelled

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