Have you ever joined a team at work where, in the beginning, everything was fine? Then, you begin to realize that something is not quite right, but you are unable to articulate it. After all, the team is comprised of smart, intellectually capable people doing meaningful work. Team conversations are surface-level, interactions are cordial and brainstorming sessions are safe. Everyone is nice, yet you sense sidebar conversations and decisions are being made without you — but you have no real evidence to justify this feeling. Then, something happens one day that validates your initial hypothesis, leading you to stop trusting the team.
Over time this lack of trust manifests into moments when you cannot wait to leave meetings, when you dread attending offsite workshops or when you quickly complete assigned tasks, just to stay as far away as you can.
If you are familiar with this scenario, you have likely been part of a dysfunctional team. You are not alone: A staggering 68% of respondents in a University of Phoenix study cite being part of a dysfunctional team. Great teams create a lifetime of friends, good memories, strong networks and higher performance. Dysfunctional teams, however, result in missed opportunities, irreparable relationships and damage to personal brands.
High performing team models are the future of work.
Organizations need to begin prioritizing the development of high performing teams: It is common knowledge that high performing teams consistently outperform, are more profitable and result in increased employee engagement and retention. Many organizations focus on individual “bottom-up” career management or organizational “top-down” development, yet rarely do they make “within the middle” differential investments in team development.
With the rise of the gig economy, I believe the true disruption in the “workplace of the future” model will not only be comprised of freelancers but also autonomous, self-directed, high performing “pods” or teams that go from project to project together. With this shift in workplace trends, I believe high performing team design and development are the next wave of focus for human capital professionals.
Here are seven things to keep in mind if you’re trying to reboot your dysfunctional team:
1. Teams are similar to marriages.
Like individuals entering a marriage, no one sets out to join a team with the intention of becoming part of a dysfunctional collective of individuals. But, also like marriages, cohesive teams take a deliberate focus on trust building, vulnerability, establishing rules of engagement, ongoing communications and shared goals.
2. Transforming a dysfunctional team starts with mindset.
What can you do to turn a group of smart individuals into a healthy, high functioning team? It starts with mindset. Each individual comes to a team with different perspectives, motivational drivers, experiences, biases and personal/professional backgrounds that should be embraced.
3. You should strive for progress, not perfection.
No team will ever be perfect. Accept team members for who they really are, not who you want them to be.
4. Team cultural change takes time.
Despite what you may read, there is no true quick fix to a dysfunctional team. Teams create subcultures. And cultures of any size take time to change. Timing is a critical component to turning around a dysfunctional team.
5. Team members have to acknowledge the truth and buy into a change.
All team members have to be ready and willing. It may take one vulnerable moment of truth amongst the team to break the ice and create the space to shift the energy. Everyone has to be on board and agree on the current pains and decide as a collective that there has got to be a better way of operating. Creating a sense of urgency and communicating what will continue to happen if there is no change is an important element to evoking the will to change.
6. Focus on building trust and creating unique rituals.
Once mindset and timing are in the right place, transforming a dysfunctional team is solidified by building trust. Trust on a team opens all doors. Trust can universally be a learned skillset — it’s never too late to reset the dial of a team with an intentional focus on creating trust. To create trust, start with the team’s why. Collectively decide what success looks like for the team. Discuss what behaviors will or will not be tolerated by the team. Create team symbols — such as a tagline, logo, quotes, etc. — that become a visual representation of what the new image of the team looks like. Create team rituals — such as virtual coffee connects or unique celebratory victory laps — that are inclusive of all team members.
7. Manage team member transitions to keep momentum and culture intact.
Team members do not stay forever, no matter how great a team is. Acknowledge when team members leave or new members join by creating specific, memorable onboarding and offboarding rituals. Ensure laser focus on recruiting individuals for teams that are both a cultural and skillset fit. Anytime there is a change of individuals, team dynamics will shift, and the collective will become a brand new team. Going through these steps each and every time will help to minimize disruption.