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  • Glenn Price

Your Team Is Dysfunctional and You Don't Know It Yet

Sometimes, companies don't even realise their teams' behaviours have slipped into dysfunctional territory until they're knee-deep in the damage. A company's culture is paramount to its success -- in fact, 84 percent of all employees believe it's essential to their team's success, and 60 percent think it even outweighs the team's strategy or business model. Less than half, however, treat it as a daily priority.


When that happens, dysfunction emerges. In the absence of a healthy, functional work environment, bad behaviours tend to fill the void: bullying, neglect, avoidance, absenteeism, reluctance. Despite the prevalence of silos, those negative behaviours aren't isolated to their original departments: Harvard Business Review found that 75 percent of all cross-functional teams are, well, not functional. Unfortunately, most leaders struggle to identify dysfunction in the first place.


What's Dysfunction -- and What Is Not

Many people relate "dysfunction" to conflict, but conflict can be healthy, appropriate, and necessary. Conflict can resolve underlying problems, help a team make a decision to move forward in a singular direction, and even fuel stronger performance. Conflict handled well, is a way to prevent bigger problems from plaguing a team.


"Dysfunction" is better equated with the behaviours we've come to know as "toxic." Some, however, might be better described as simply futile. In the dysfunction category fall things like information hoarding, silo mentality, political, backstabbing, and credit stealing. These are the actions that drive wedges between team members. Dysfunction at the top of the executive chain can be particularly damaging.


Sometimes We Cannot See The Dysfunction

Some of these behaviours seem so obvious that it's hard to imagine a leadership team missing them. Who wouldn't swiftly and decisively deal with a manager who was bullying his employees? Who wouldn't create systems to eliminate bottlenecks? Not all symptoms of dysfunction manifest themselves so clearly.


Here are four less obvious signs that your team is grappling with dysfunction -- whether or not you realise it.


1. Turnover is high, but nothing's changed.

Turnover rates vary by industry, but if your company's rate is high for your sector -- or has recently gone through a steep increase -- this is a sign that something's going on to impact your employee experience. If nothing has changed since this high rate of turnover began -- and by "nothing," I mean you haven't replaced people or made any changes to your leadership or management approach -- you can be sure your leadership team is part of the problem.


2. There are well-known guidelines for dealing with certain people.

This is typically most common among executives, but if there are particular team members everyone else treats with kid gloves -- or gives a wide berth -- that's a sign that dysfunction has taken root and become accepted. This is often communicated via phrases like "You know how Richard is -- don't take the yelling personally" or "We just didn't include Chris in the meeting so we could get stuff done."


3. The overarching goals change often.

While innovation is a big factor in remaining competitive, some companies take this too far and try on goals like they're going out of style. If your company is simultaneously trying to add three new product lines, create career paths for employees, and restructure the leadership team, rest assured that very little is getting done as your managers and employees simply try to absorb each new goal that's announced.


4. Meetings are considered a big waste of time.

A whopping two-thirds of meetings are considered unnecessary by executives, but does every meeting in your company seem to fall into this category? If people show up to meetings already looking annoyed, bored, or ready to fight, meetings have gone very, very wrong within your company -- and the meetings are probably the public face of what else has gone wrong.


Dysfunction is a common, but not an inevitable aspect of company culture. Oftentimes, companies don't even realise their teams' behaviours have slipped into dysfunctional territory until they're knee-deep in the damage. By keeping an eye out for these four less obvious signs, leaders can nip such behaviour in the bud -- and quickly get their team back to a healthy place.


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