The 5 characteristics of dysfunctional teams

The 5 characteristics of dysfunctional teams

A dysfunctional team is a collection of people in an organization who can't cooperate well enough to accomplish their objectives. A team is dysfunctional when people are pushed into inappropriate responsibilities or have their roles out of balance. According to Guzzo and Dickson's (1986) model, dysfunction results in subpar team performance as a departure from efficient task-related and interpersonal processes.


According to Katzenbach and Smith (1993), a team is a small group of individuals with complementary skills who are dedicated to a shared objective, performance standards, and methodology and hold each other accountable for their actions. According to their theory, dysfunction develops when these components are absent or improperly handled.

Being a member of a dysfunctional team can be problematic and harmful to one's performance as an individual as well as the success of the organization. According to a Forbes study, 68% of participants have dealt with dysfunctional teams. Dysfunctional teams might hamper overall performance, production, and collaboration. 

Research has shown that the most dysfunctional teams comprise individuals with various experience and talents from many departments or functional areas within an organization working together to accomplish a similar goal. These teams are known as cross-functional teams. In particular, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional because they don't satisfy three of the following five requirements: Maintaining alignment with the company's corporate goals while satisfying customer expectations, staying within budget, meeting deadlines, and following requirements.

Common characteristics of dysfunctional teams

1. Lack of communication and trust 


One of the most significant indicators of a dysfunctional team is poor communication. When team members don't communicate well, miscommunications and conflicts occur, which lowers trust and collaboration. When team members do not communicate honestly and openly, they may feel forgotten, undervalued, or excluded from crucial discussions. This can lead to missed deadlines, decreased output, and a breakdown in team cohesiveness.

Open communication lines are essential to overcoming this trait of dysfunctional teams. Encourage team members to freely share their ideas and opinions, and create a setting where everyone is at ease. Establish recurring check-ins or team meetings to make sure that everyone is aware of the situation and has an opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns. To improve communication and keep everyone updated on project developments, consider utilizing project management software or collaborative tools.

Establishing trust in a team is equally crucial. Collaboration and creativity suffer without trust, which is the cornerstone of productive teamwork. Promote honesty, openness, and sincerity among team members to build trust. Promote candid communication and attentive listening, and deal swiftly and equitably with any emerging disputes or problems. Trust will foster an atmosphere where team members are more willing to take chances, share ideas, and collaborate to achieve goals.

2. Poor Leadership and Decision-Making

A dysfunctional team also tends to have subpar decision-making and leadership. Confusion, annoyance, and a lack of direction can result from team leaders who are incompetent or lack the essential abilities to inspire and lead their group. Ineffective leadership can take many forms, including micromanagement, indecision, or a lack of vision.

It is imperative to make training and development investments in leadership to address this trait. Team leaders should receive continuing assistance and resources to help them advance their expertise. To ensure everyone's voice is heard and appreciated, team leaders should promote open communication and feedback among team members. Additionally, by giving team leaders the tools and resources they need, you may enable them to make wise judgments.

Enhancing team dynamics might also involve fostering a culture of shared decision-making. Allow team members to share their knowledge and perspectives by involving them in decision-making. When different viewpoints are considered, this not only improves ownership and involvement but also produces better decision outcomes.

3. Conflict and Lack of Collaboration

Any team will inevitably experience conflict, but when it increases or is not resolved, it can indicate a dysfunctional team. Unresolved disputes may raise stress levels, lower output, and create a poisonous work atmosphere. Conversely, a lack of cooperation stifles creativity and makes it more difficult for the team to accomplish its objectives.

To tackle these problems, promoting honest and beneficial dispute settlement is critical. Give team members the resources and instruments they need to settle disputes constructively and healthily. Training in mediation, communication skills, or conflict management may fall under this category. Promote empathy, active listening, and a win-win solution-focused mindset. Encourage collaboration among team members, cross-functional projects, and knowledge-sharing programs to cultivate a collaborative culture further.

4. Lack of accountability and responsibility



A common trait of dysfunctional teams is a lack of accountability. When team members don't take ownership of their actions or don't hold others accountable, it can result in missed deadlines, subpar work, and a lack of trust

Setting clear expectations and holding team members accountable for their performance is vital to address this characteristic. It's also essential to clearly define roles and responsibilities so that everyone knows how they individually contribute to the team's goals. Regular performance evaluations and progress check-ins can be implemented to track individual and team progress. Finally, it's important to recognize accomplishments and promptly and constructively address performance issues.

5. Toxic Team Dynamics

A toxic, adversarial, or blame-focused team culture defined by gossip, personal assaults, micromanagement, and a lack of regard for fellow team members can seriously impair output, morale, and general efficacy.

To address this, leaders must encourage candid dialogue, mutual respect, teamwork, and personal growth and dispute resolution assistance. Setting a good example, demanding responsibility, and quickly dealing with negative behaviors are crucial to creating a friendly and upbeat team atmosphere where everyone feels appreciated and inspired to work together to achieve shared objectives.

The Impact of Dysfunctional Teams on Productivity and Morale

Dysfunctional teams negatively affect morale and production. Team members become less motivated and engaged when they continuously deal with misunderstandings, a lack of trust, unsolved issues, and a lack of accountability. This impacts the team's overall performance and the caliber of the work done.

Missed deadlines, a lack of alignment, and poor communication can all lead to low productivity. Team members could feel uninspired, disengaged, and demotivated to put out their best effort. High turnover rates can also result from a dysfunctional team dynamic, as individuals leave the team searching for a more encouraging and supportive work environment.

Another effect of dysfunctional teams is low morale. Team members' general well-being and job satisfaction suffer when they perceive themselves as undervalued, unheard, or disrespected. Increased stress, fatigue, and a diminished sense of allegiance to the company may result from this.

Strategies for Improving Team Dynamics and Addressing Dysfunction

Proactive action is necessary to address dysfunction and improve team chemistry. Here are some tactics to think about:

  • Encourage candid and open communication by giving team members the chance to express their opinions freely and by setting up regular chances for check-ins and feedback sessions.
  • Create a trusting environment in the team by encouraging openness, justice, and responsibility. Promote candid communication and deal with disagreements quickly and equitably.
  • Invest in leadership development and give team leaders continuing assistance and resources to help them hone their leadership abilities.
  • Promote teamwork, cross-functional projects, and knowledge-sharing activities to cultivate a collaborative culture.
  • Define roles and duties clearly to ensure that everyone is aware of their specific obligations, and to prevent confusion, clearly outline roles and responsibilities.
  • Establish clear expectations, monitor team and individual performance, and hold team members responsible for their actions.
  • Resolve disputes quickly and give team members the resources and instruments to settle conflicts constructively and healthily.

The Role of Leadership in Creating and Maintaining High-Functioning Teams

Effective leadership is essential for building and sustaining high-performing teams. Successful leaders encourage, inspire, and mentor their team members to realize their most significant potential. They create a welcoming and inclusive work environment, offer resources and support, and clearly define expectations.

An effective leader sets an example for their team members by modeling the morals and conduct they value. They value candid communication, promote teamwork, and swiftly and constructively resolve disputes or problems. Additionally, they invest in their leadership growth, continuously looking to improve their abilities and expertise.

Strong leadership abilities and developing a high-performance culture allow leaders to turn unproductive and disengaged teams into highly engaged and productive ones.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

Innovation, morale among staff members, and production can all be seriously hampered by dysfunctional teams. Recognizing the traits of dysfunctional teams is the first step in making changes. Teams can overcome dysfunction and establish a more positive and productive work environment by resolving issues with bad team culture, unclear roles and duties, low trust, poor communication, and lack of accountability.

Organizations can improve team dynamics by encouraging open communication, generating trust, establishing clear roles and duties, supporting collaboration, and encouraging accountability.

Recall that effective leadership is essential to forming and sustaining high-performing teams. Successful leaders encourage, inspire, and mentor their team members to realize their greatest potential.

Brandon Murambinda
This article was written by Brandon a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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