How To Manage A Dysfunctional Team

team managementDysfunctional people create dysfunctional situations. One team member with poor communication skills can explode a business environment. But a great communicator who never pulls his weight on the team can do the same thing.

The problem is office chaos created by unmanaged office politics.

Any time a group forms, there’s going to be a play for power and positioning — that’s natural. It happens in high schools, on athletic teams, in social organizations. And it happens in business settings. It’s a normal function of groups.

The engagement, however, becomes dysfunctional, if it goes unchecked.

Who’s In Charge?

You don’t have to be a bulldozer to run a business or effectively manage a team. But you do have to be bold enough to set a standard, and then protect that standard.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a leadership fable by Patrick Lencioni, he highlights the idea that teams can be dysfunctional in layers. Depicted in the form of a pyramid, Lencioni says:

“The first dysfunction is an absence of trust…that stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable in the group.”

Consequently, the trust issue creates a conflict issue that leads to a commitment issue as well as an accountability issue. By the time these four issues pile on top of each other, you end up with an underperforming team and company — which is the ultimate issue when it comes to small business impact.

Where Did The First Problem Come From?

If trust is the foundation to successful team relationships, then how does a small business loose it in the first place? A few things get in the way including:

  1. A lack of awareness that the trust was never earned.
  2. A leader who hopes the issue will fix itself.
  3. An owner who doesn’t have time for these types of concerns.

Healthy teams don’t build themselves. If nobody is actively responsible for the team, then you get what you get — a mess.


Lencioni says:

“The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.”

Our personal chaos follows us where ever we go. We all have triggers, quirks, behavior issues that we have to manage. We’re human, it’s not an excuse, it’s an observation.

Since we are people with issues, chances are we come through the door with concerns. If those concerns go unchecked, then there is no trust. But if they’re effectively and consistently addressed, then we open up — a little at a time.  This opening creates a safe place to do business, to collaborate, to create amazing things together.

Keep in mind, the consummate professional will make the most of a bad situation no matter what. But here’s the concern – what skills, what ideas, what witty inventions are being left on the table, because of your team’s unchecked dysfunction?


Marketing is about promoting a message that means something to your target audience. The small business owner, ultimately hopes that his marketing efforts turn into paying customers. He wants his message to gain traction and gain attention.

Marketing not only happens outside of the company, but it also takes place within the team. Every time bad behavior goes unchecked, then a new standard gets attention, a dysfunction gains traction, and the team losses ground. A destructive team will ultimately erode the company.

Lencioni states:

“Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their division above the collective goals of the team.”

Again, teams don’t build themselves, leaders do — and that takes time. Effectively working together is often a learned behavior. Somebody has to set the standard.


The quality of your team impacts the quality of your business. If they turn on each other, eventually one of them is going to turn on your customers. Think about it, if your team fails to own up to their mistakes when dealing with each other and you, then that behavior is going to leak out. And when clients call in with issues you want them to encounter an honest, direct and solution-oriented team. Evasive and defensive is just bad business.

There’s always time for leadership.

In Leadership Truths That Every Leader Needs To Know, Dale Kirke says:

“As a leader, you create an environment where people are encouraged to work harmoniously together using their own unique talents and skills to achieve common goals.”

The environment doesn’t create itself. The leader creates the environment.

Here are three tools to help you redesign your office atmosphere:

  1. Clear expectations. Make sure your team understands what you expect. And then you live up to that expectation.
  2. Constant feedback on behavior. Make sure your team sees you respond to questionable behavior. Self-correction often happens with a little bit of guidance.
  3. Concrete course of action for conflict resolution. Every issue isn’t a major one. Managers can check certain things just by speaking up. But some types of concerns including sexual harassment and other forms of bullying need a written and clear course of action.

You can be firm but fair, fun and effective. But you have to remain frank and focused on the kind of team and environment that you are creating.

Senior Manager Photo via Shutterstock


Jamillah Warner Jamillah Warner (Ms.J), a poet with a passion for business, is a Georgia-based writer and speaker and the Marketing Coordinator at Nobuko Solutions. She also provides marketing and communication quick tips in her getCLEAR! MicroNewsletter.

7 Reactions
  1. Ad Rampen Zandvoort The Netherlands

    My experience in The Netherlands culture.

    In team meetings the goals and the responsible persons for the different assignments are discussed and clearly appointed. Persons with practical or home/family problems or worries must be taken in a private session with the manager in order to can decide the impact on his/her assignment and possible changes. The possible hanges will be discussed in the team with the question how this (possibly temporarely) “situation” can be takeled. It’s my experience tht colleages are allways willing to substitute or help the colleage after which the goal and team will be functioning as disired and indicated bij them selves.

    For the above result it is neccessary that the manager is managing by walking around and allways available “on the bridge” in order to reply instantly and fullfill the needs and questions of his/her teammembers.

    Yours friendly

    Ad Rampen
    Zandvoort aan zee
    The Netherlands

  2. Great post, Jamillah. Having a dysfunctional team is one of reasons why businesses fail so it’s important to know how to manage them properly. I think proper management all comes down to having good people skills and knowing how to effectively communicate. If done properly you can get a team to do a complete 180, which great for the entire business bottom line. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Spot on! I guess, there’s a border line between leadership and management. Managers try to make things right while leaders do the right things. It’s just easy to point fingers and put the blame on someone else for a mistake.. when you should have been addressing the real issue, not attacking the person.

  4. Jamillah,

    Indeed dysfunctional team is a major blocker in progress & if it goes unchecked it certainly causes so much confusion and negative energies in the the work place.
    I am glad that you are addressing all the points points raised by Patrick lencioni in a simplistic manner.

    Recently, we have carried out a survey to establish how the organization stands on this regard using lencioni’s tool & the results were shockingly.