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Repairing Dysfunctional Teams

Steve Wawra Repairing Dysfunctional Teams

Overcoming Dysfunctions and Building Teams

A team of employees can face challenges in working together which affects the harmony and functioning of an organization. The negative team dynamics may include complaints, blaming, power plays, rumors, how team members treat each other and other relational issues. The restoration of harmony to this toxic environment is vital for the well-being and efficiency of a team. The following is a discussion of the concepts and process of team building.


Every organization with a dysfunctional team wants to identify what changes would bring about harmony in the workplace and build a well-functioning team.

A well-functioning team is generally defined as a team that accomplishes the results that it sets out to achieve. The concepts to build a well-functioning team are trust, healthy ideological conflict, commitment and accountability.

The framework to build such a team is contained in the renowned book on the subject entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, written by Patrick Lencioni. It has been used by numerous organizations.


The most important point we need to discuss that lies at the heart of a well-functioning, cohesive team is trust. As written by Lencioni in his book “without trust, teamwork is all but impossible”.

So, what is the meaning of trust when talking about teams. It is the confidence among team members that the other team members’ intentions are good, and they have your back. There is no reason to be protective or careful around the team. They admit and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They admit when mistakes are made or when they need help in an area of the operation. In essence, team mates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another and be confident that their vulnerabilities will not be used against them.

Think of it in terms of a fire department team. If the team doesn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, it can be catastrophic when they are on a fire.  If they are open about their strengths and weaknesses, they can adjust roles of the fire team to have a well-functioning team. If they make mistakes and take responsibility, the team lifts them up.

Healthy Ideological Conflict

The team needs to discuss important subjects which may draw out conflicting viewpoints which should be robustly debated. Included for debate might be the goals of the team, titles, roles and responsibilities, and relational issues such as how members of the team communicate and treat each other, and what areas can be improved upon.  It is to arrive at the best way for the team to function.

This robust discussion requires the full, active participation of all team members. Without each person’s perspective on the issues there won’t be “buy in” – full support of the entire team when a decision is made after the discussion.


Once there has been a full open discussion with the participation of all members, a commitment to the decision can be made. Commitment is a function of 2 things – clarity of the decision and “buy in” from all team members, even those who voted against the decision. Most teams do not consider it necessary to receive 100% in favor of a decision to support the vote, as long as all opinions have been heard and considered.


As long as the team’s decision was clearly understood, the team members know what is expected of them. They have respect for each other and have high expectations of one another’s performance. They can call each other on actions and behaviors that may hurt the team – holding them accountable.


The following is a description of the process Steve uses to resolve issues and build a well-functioning team.

Meeting with leadership of the company

The first meeting is with the human resources officer, and others recommended to be included, to learn about the team members and issues involved. It helps greatly to aid in the process of constructing a well-developed program to respond to the challenges. This meeting can last from one to three hours.

Joint meeting with leadership and all team members

An orientation of the program is given for the team members. Steve is introduced to the team by the leadership of the organization. Steve then discusses the program and answers any questions to make sure everyone is on the same page. Included is a discussion of the concepts involved in team building, which will be part of the facilitation process.  Two hours are required.

Private interviews with team members

Each team member is offered the opportunity to share his/her perspective in private about the issues the team is facing. It allows Steve to build rapport with the team members and answer any questions about the program. The interviews are anticipated to take one to two hours for each member.

Team facilitation

A meeting with all team members is held to resolve team issues and build a well-functioning team. A robust discussion is facilitated, with all members participating, about the challenges affecting the team and resolutions for them.  Goals, norms and values are decided upon to guide the team going forward, and a written commitment is executed by the team members. One or two full days should be set.

Follow up

A facilitated follow-up meeting for the team will be set after a month or two to review if commitments are being kept and if some changes are required. It is anticipated that 2-4 hours are required.

To read a Harvard Business Review article on the New Science of building Great Teams, please click this link:

The New Science of Building Great Teams

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