How to work with dysfunctional team dynamics

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By Steve Zuieback & Michael Grinder · Posted Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Leaders with the most distinctions and the most flexibility have the greatest ability to positively influence others and achieve better results – do you want to learn how to be more effective?

In our training programs we are frequently asked the following two questions:

  1. I have just "inherited" a dysfunctional team, what can I do as the leader of the team?
  2. What do I do if I am perceived to be the cause of the dysfunctional behavior in my team or organization?

Michael Grinder and I are embarking on a series of blog posts and articles to explore the topics of dysfunctional team behavior and how to move teams to higher levels of effectiveness and performance. In a previous blog I addressed some tips on "How to assist a leader to become more effective with their team". We intend to explore this area in much greater depth through subsequent blogs and articles.

In this first blog post, we introduce you to what we are calling the "Leadership Map of Effectiveness". We have just written our first article that reviews this overall framework. This framework consists of four components or assessments that are stated as questions:

  1. Determining the level of functionality of the group - is it formed or unformed?
  2. What type of strategy is necessary based on the functionality - management, intervention or facilitation?
  3. Is the group capable of tackling an issue based on its functionality and level of complexity of the issue?
  4. What facilitation process is best matched to the functionality of the team and complexity of the issue? 

In some cases a leader is frustrated by apparent dysfunctionality when in fact, the group is actually unformed - it meets so infrequently that it really has no identity or clear purpose. In that case, the leader/convener needs to assist the group to develop a clear and shared purpose, specific outcomes and a consistent and agreed upon way of operating to achieve their outcomes.

In many cases, a group/team's behavior is actually less than functional either on a chronic or temporary basis. Some of the dynamics that can result in chronic dysfunction include:

  1. Dysfunctional meeting process
  2. Inappropriate behavior by an individual or small subgroup - a person who dominates the conversation.
  3. Victim mentality in the whole group.
  4. Asocial individual
  5. A leader who pushes the group past their current capacity or capability

In learning to deal with people who dominate meetings and conversations, you may want to review a prior blog post. Each of the above dynamics is both a symptom and a cause of chronic dysfunctional behavior. Each has prescribed suggestions and strategies to shift the pattern to higher levels of functionality. Usually a chroncially dysnfunctional group exhibits more than one of these dynamics. The strategies of the new leader inheriting the group need to be deliberate, consistent and strict. Some examples of leadership behavior would be:

  1. very unemotional
  2. be a consistent enforcer of expectations that are visually displayed
  3. carry out consequenes and most importantly,
  4. become dispassionate about whether you are liked or not.

In our new article entitled, Leadership Map of Effectiveness and in our two-day Master Class, we teach the observation skills to accurately "read" a group as well as the leader/facilitator skills to intervene and interrupt these dysfunctional patterns.

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