5 indicators of dysfunction on your team—and how to fix them

If specific goals, accountability and transparency are lacking within your organization or department, even your superstars might be spinning their wheels. Try these approaches.


Rarely in the business world does anything exist in a vacuum.

People and departments rely on each other to maintain certain functions, but what happens when teams don’t gel? Do you try to pin the blame on one bad apple, spoiling the whole bunch? What if you have nothing but topnotch employees in your organization?

The logic would follow that if we have excellent employees, we should have excellent teams.

Unfortunately, some teams just don’t function well, and it’s usually due to some combination of poor leadership and low individual self-awareness. Leaders are the primary actors who must turn around dysfunctional teams.

Deidre Paknad, CEO of performance management company Workboard, cites five dynamics of low-performing teams that leaders must address:

1. Freeloaders

Think back to high school group projects. Remember how bad it was to get stuck with that kid who didn’t do any work but still got the same grade as the rest of the group?

The freeloading habit doesn’t go away just because the kid grows up. Gallup has estimated that about two out of every 10 employees are actively disengaged in their work and undermine the value created by their peers.

Other freeloaders may be “less destructive,” in that they’re not “actively disengaged,” yet they still demotivate their team by contributing nothing. Managers should watch for freeloaders and take steps to correct their behavior; avoiding this issue will only allow it to fester.

2. Vague goals and unclear objectives

How can you hit the target if you don’t know where it is?

When teams lack clear direction and goals, they stand little chance of achieving anything meaningful. To boost employee engagement, morale and productivity, make sure workers have clear, defined, measurable goals to shoot for.

3. Lack of honesty and transparency

Teams must be able to track their progress, or see a lack of it, so they can pivot and coordinate efforts as needed. It’s important, however, to understand that honesty and transparency are not the same thing.

“For example, honesty could mean telling customers that a sponsor has done 50 successful deals in the past two years, while transparency means communicating that there are also 3 projects from that sponsor that are currently in trouble,” writes FinTech entrepreneur Ray Sturm.

In the same way, you’d be honest with your team by letting them know that they’re excelling with part A of the project, but you wouldn’t be transparent if you didn’t let them know they were missing the mark on part B.

Your goal might be boosting morale, but you’d cost the team the chance to learn from its mistakes and avoid repeating them—all for lack of transparency.

4. Lack of accountability

Nobody wants to be the bad guy. Harvard Business Review reports that half of all managers are “terrible at accountability.”

In the best teams, managers set up systems that allow for team members to hold each other accountable (as well as themselves). Nevertheless, accountability begins with leaders and managers; setting accountability standards for everyone—including yourself—should precede virtually everything else.

Think of it as reading everybody the rules before playing a game or reading the recipe (and gathering all the ingredients) before cooking a complex meal. If everybody is on the same page, you’ll be better equipped for long-term success and harmony.

5. Fear of giving feedback

Employees crave feedback. They want affirmation that they’re on the right track, but they also want to know how they can do better.

At least one study found that young people today receive about 70 percent of their learning on the job, so constructive criticism is crucial for the growth of your team members. However, positive feedback is just as necessary.

According to Gallup: “The Fourth Element of Great Managing is measured by the statement ‘In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.'”

If you want to improve your company culture and increase employee motivation, get used to giving feedback. That’s a great first step toward turning around a dysfunctional team.

A version of this post first appeared on Business 2 Community.

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