Dysfunctional Team: Signs & Solutions

A team can be considered dysfunctional any time it fails to live up to its full potential. Such a team often has constant heated, unhealthy conflicts between its members, which inevitably leads to the low productivity of the entire company.

Such a problem is quite common in both new and long-established groups and should be eliminated as early as possible, without waiting for serious consequences.

The good news is that the dysfunctional behavior of team members has quite clear signs, which can be easily identified. Therefore, you can find solutions to each aspect of the problem. Of course, the most efficient results can only be achieved in case all members are genuinely interested in the process.

What Makes a Team Dysfunctional?

Even people who are genuinely interested in their professional growth and the success of the entire venture can still act ineffectively. In almost any team, common problems, such as conflicts or strained relationships between employees, can arise.

There are five main reasons for ineffective team behavior. In this article, we’ll break down each of them and find the most effective solutions.

Lack of Trust

Most often, the problem associated with lack of trust occurs when employees are unwilling to admit their weaknesses or mistakes. In other words, they don’t feel comfortable being truthful and vulnerable. In this situation, an employee will not want to ask for help from more experienced colleagues or leaders because they simply don’t trust them.

Other signs of lack of trust in the team:

  • Employees are reluctant to ask for or offer help to their co-workers if it’s not their responsibility to do so directly;
  • Team members are reluctant to give feedback on other employees’ work;
  • Many employees don’t like work meetings and avoid spending time together in the office or outside of it.

If most team members focus solely on their own invulnerability, trust relationships in the group suffer.

The problem should be solved at the top of the team. Team leaders are supposed to model humility and admit what they don’t know to inspire trust among other members of the team.

Lack of Commitment

When employees are constantly worried about being wrong, they can’t openly discuss controversial topics, which often leads to sluggish conflicts.

The second reason is the lack of effective feedback. As a result, team members have a poor understanding of the company’s goals and objectives. This means that they will not demonstrate commitment to the overall direction of the company.

The main problems of such a team are as follows:

  • Employees are insecure and constantly afraid of failure;
  • Employees tend to endlessly discuss problematic issues, without seeking any solutions, “sweeping problems under the rug”;
  • Decision-making takes too long, which reduces productivity.

If employees are not confident, it becomes challenging for them to make decisions and be responsible.

Fear of Conflict

Conflicts can be both productive and unproductive. In the first case, an exchange of views in most cases leads to a positive result. It’s a kind of brainstorming that is aimed at solving a specific production problem.

Signs of a group whose members are afraid to engage in productive conflict are as follows:

  • Employees are afraid to defend their point of view and avoid discussion;
  • Employees tend to ignore controversial topics, even if it’s detrimental to the success of the company;
  • A large number of unconstructive conflicts arise, including interpersonal disputes.

One of the easiest ways to identify such a problem is to propose a knowingly bad idea at a general team meeting. If the leader hears no objections, the problem is definitely there.

Desire to Avoid Responsibility

If a team lacks a clear plan of action, employees will avoid both personal and collective responsibility, which prevents the development of common performance standards. As a result, employees perform poorly and constantly fail to meet their deadlines.

Here’s what problems may arise as a result:

  • The risk of lost profits, in which employees are indifferent to the fact that a losing project impairs their own financial well-being as well as their professional growth;
  • Department heads are overloaded with work since they are the only ones who enforce discipline and meet deadlines for tasks.

In this case, unscrupulous employees can easily avoid responsibility for a job poorly done.

Inattention to Team Goals

The problem occurs when most employees are focused on their own ambitions, to the detriment of the success of the entire team. And here are just a few negative problems that may arise as a result:

  • The risk of firing team-wide success-oriented employees;
  • Most team members are not focused on collective goals;
  • The company does not grow;
  • Low competitiveness.

One of the reasons for this situation is the lack of clear indicators to evaluate performance.

How to Make Your Team Functional?

A good way to restore the effectiveness of the team is not only a properly established feedback with employees. It’s also imperative to set goals and objectives as accurately as possible, as well as constantly motivate all employees to achieve great results.

Here’s a list of questions every team manager should answer:

  • Can all members of the team openly and freely express their opinions on work issues?
  • Can you call your team meetings productive?
  • Are team members able to make decisions quickly, without lengthy conflicts or unproductive discussions?
  • Are team members capable of honestly and openly admitting their shortcomings?
  • Are your team members inclined to put the interests of the team above their personal interests when necessary?

If the answers to some of the questions are negative, these are the shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Now let’s take a look at how to deal with each of the five dysfunctional behavior problems described above.

How to Address Lack of Trust?

To solve the problem associated with a lack of trust, team leaders and managers should teach employees to focus on their strengths. This helps people regain confidence in themselves and motivates them to recognize and appreciate their colleagues’ achievements.

It also may well be a good idea for a supervisor to publicly acknowledge his/her weaknesses to earn the confidence of subordinates.

All this will definitely lead to positive results as follows:

  • Your team members will feel comfortable and willing to work for the overall result;
  • They will quickly identify and solve problems in their work;
  • They will prevent errors through quality feedback.

Employees should motivate each other to achieve a positive result for the whole team.

How to Overcome a Fear of Conflict?

Establish productive discussion as a positive behavior among the standards of corporate behavior. As a result, all employees will know that voicing and defending their point of view is good for the project. Additionally, people will learn to find flaws in ideas during the discussion, without getting personal with their colleagues.

In this case, the positive result is:

  • Conflict situations are resolved quickly, without getting personal;
  • Team members openly discuss production problems and ways to solve them;
  • Employees are not afraid to express controversial ideas if they help find the right solution to the problem.

You can also use lists of pros and cons for each idea (or production problem) discussed as a working tool.

How to Address Lack of Commitment?

If most work tasks are performed by a few responsible employees while others avoid them, the situation is perceived as unfair. Offer all team members to write down one positive action that a person can take for the team and one behavior that, conversely, is detrimental to overall productivity.

If the team is constantly working on mutual understanding among employees, it improves overall productivity, which leads to a positive outcome as follows:

  • Team members willingly give each other constructive feedback;
  • All employees focus on collective results, recognizing the achievements of each other;
  • The team remains cohesive and continues to work on production tasks, even if there are disagreements.

It’s imperative that not individual but also collective goals are set, followed by clear progress tracking.

How to Help Employees Take Responsibility?

The responsibility of each employee for collective achievements is an important component of overall success. For this, as a manager, you should develop a common “coordinate system.” Publicly explain to your employees the main goals and ensure that each employee has an idea of who does a certain work and in what time frame.

All team members should then regularly and openly share the results of their work with their colleagues. It’s advisable to restructure the rewards system so that team accomplishments are rewarded first, not individual accomplishments.

If everything is done right, you can expect the following positive results:

  • Quick problem identification and solution;
  • Common standards will increase the loyalty of your employees;
  • No need to impose strict performance control or impose penalties on employees.

Such team standards will force bad employees to improve. Ideally, all team members will learn to respect and reward each other’s achievements.

How to Motivate Employees to Work for Results?

Creating clear criteria for evaluating results is critical to success. If your team already has all the necessary skills to track each other’s results, this will contribute to collective progress. Thus, employees will “automatically” motivate their colleagues to achieve collective rather than individual goals.

The outcome will be as follows:

  • Your team will be more likely to work for results;
  • The number of conflicts between your employees will decrease.

The ultimate task of every team manager is to set clear deadlines and goals. As with the previous problem, it’s advisable to emphasize collective rewards rather than individual rewards.


A dysfunctional team is more than just constant conflicts. The problems we discussed above are quite common.

Remember that even one of such dysfunctions can reduce overall productivity. However, even though no team can consistently achieve positive results, each of the described dysfunctions can be easily eliminated, thereby improving the company’s productivity.