It was Tolstoy who wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way“. This observation is most adaptable when considering the myriad of workplace realities.
Generally speaking, when workplace teams are working well and productively (hurrah!), there is not much differentiation within that cohort. Invariably, such teams will reflect and manifest, a culture of respect, accountability and support. What’s not to love about that?
However, when it comes to identifying what is going wrong with a team, all sorts of pathologies might be at play, and not in a good way.
At Worklogic last year, we examined the matters we have dealt with for more than a decade, across our investigations, workplace reviews and mediations, as well as the relevant HR literature. As a result, we identified the twelve core team dysfunctions which manifest either, solely, severally or even potentially as a serious “dirty dozen” mega-cluster – and then wrote our book, Fix Your Team, published by Wiley.
The 12 toxic causes of team dysfunction
On Fix Your Team’s publishing anniversary and on the eve of our speaking at the AHRI National Convention, it seems fitting to revisit the top twelve toxic causes of team dysfunction:
1. Gossip culture
Gossip culture is played out in harmful banter, awkward meeting, and where social media platforms are used to discuss workplace issues.
To gossip is human, but it can be destructive and gossip abhors a vacuum. When teams are not given transparent and clear information about ‘who is doing what’ and the future, gossip will inaccurately and problematically fill in the corners.
2. Unprofessional conduct
Unprofessional conduct includes questionable ‘rituals’ like hazing and excessive drinking; sexual innuendo; micro-aggressions and casual discrimination; derogatory ‘jokes’. A ghastly panoply of dysfunction on view here. So often, unprofessional conduct does not happen in isolation. A culture of disrespect can arise sometimes through complacency, other stressors, or because of a toxic and unaccountable ‘rainmaker’ or leader.
3. Toxic personalities
Toxic personalities make sarcastic or belittling comments (often offline); have undermining and negative reactions set as their default position; and enjoy playing people off against each other.
Hopefully, we all come to our workplaces in order to contribute positively, play fair, and not take advantage of others’ frailty. It only takes a few seriously problematic individuals to wreak havoc in a team’s unity and purpose. Addressing this pathology early is vital.
4. Personal crisis
Personal crisis manifest in a number of ways: someone in the team is struggling and distracted; unexplained absences or unusual poor performance; suspected health issues; or interpersonal relationship breakdown.
We all have a lot going on in our lives, and not all of it is connected to work. But what happens off-line can affect our energy levels, and concentration. A commonly touted statistic is that one out of any team of eight is having a personal crisis at any point. This means it is important to be be extra committed to emotional intelligence, and a culture of communication and support.
5. Workplace romance gone bad
Colleagues were having a relationship or covert affair – now the fall-out of the break-up is affecting everyone! Whilst many of us meet our partners in the workplace, when things don’t quite pan out the way we thought they would, then all sorts of ramifications can occur.
Whilst an anti-fraternisation policy is not the answer (and indeed, would be “lawful sexual activity” discrimination), we need to continue to ‘keep ourselves nice’ when St Valentine packs up his arrows and goes home.
6. Family ties
This is evidenced when people related to powerful employees (particularly in a family business) get favours and perks. Selection or opportunity on the basis of being a blood relative can be a real disincentive to others who are not of the same family. When this happens, the beneficiaries are resented and often isolated by the rest of the team, causing further dysfunction.
7. Lack of diversity and inclusion
In this situation, people of the same demographic do well; others are silenced, discouraged, ignored and under-valued; social events are not inclusive. Creating an inclusive environment is not just a legal requirement, it’s the right thing to do, and fosters a flourishing culture of fabulous thoughts and ideas.
8. Skeleton in the closet
Old skeletons can cause tremendous, on-going damage to teams. Resentments continue from an unresolved issue from the past; employees still feel grief and anger; lack of trust in management. You may have thought ‘everyone’s moved on’, until clearly they have not, and the only reason you find out is because a semi-related crisis in the team brings this to the fore.
9. Manager’s style
Managerial style is one of the most common causes of team dysfunctional. Examples of poor styles include avoidant manager, ‘command and control’ manager, unpredictable manager, old-school bullies or political players. If the manager is managing ineffectively, this will cause all sorts of knock-on effects for the team.
10. Unhealthy competition
Unhealthy competition occurs when individual employees want to (or are encouraged to) ‘win at all costs’. It can result in undermining, little collaboration, low trust or poor load-sharing. Unhealthy competition did not work or end well in Lord of the Flies, and nor does it ever end well for ‘dog eat dog’ workplace teams.
11. Lack of clarity and accountability
Teams that lack clarity, have no clear accountability or are confused over their individual and team roles, task outputs and reporting lines are set up to fail. Inevitably, some employees exploit the confusion while others try to improve things (without success). Team and role clarity and accountability is too often taken for granted. Don’t make this mistake!
When everyone is incredibly busy and stressed and long work hours are rife, your team will be testy, irritable and burning out. When shattered, exhausted, and completely ‘over it’, it is perhaps not so surprising that people start behaving like Orcs (yes, a Tolkien reference!).
Help to Fix Your Team
Hopefully, if these dysfunctions are occurring in teams at your workplace, you are identifying them before they become fully entrenched, and your game plan is clear.
If you are not sure how to address these symptoms of team dysfunction, then read Fix Your Team or get in touch with the experts at Worklogic! If you are attending the upcoming AHRI National Convention, you could also attend the Worklogic session, “Fix Your Team! Halt the Hospital handpass to HR”, where my co-author Rose Bryant-Smith and I will explain how managers can diagnose and address team dysfunction!
About Grevis Beard
Grevis Beard, Worklogic Director, is a highly experienced and widely respected author, dynamic speaker and trainer, and workplace investigator. Grevis speaks knowledgeably and diplomatically on how to resolve workplace conflict, manage people risk and build a positive culture at work.
Grevis is an engaging and lively speaker, who provides wisdom, insight and humour on the subject of workplace culture and communication, and tips and traps on improving workplace dynamics. His latest speaking presentation is “Building Fantastic Workplace cultures – 10 lessons to learn from popular films!”