5 Leadership Strategies to Avoid (or Reverse) a Dysfunctional Team

In the world of business, no matter how well-oiled the machine, there will come a time when dysfunctional teams rear their ugly heads. While these dysfunctional dynamics are inevitable, how leadership chooses to address (or ignore) them makes all the difference in determining the culture success and harmony of the workplace.

Signs of a Dysfunctional Team

It’s critical for leaders to recognize the signs of dysfunctional teams. These signs may include decreased productivity. When conflict persists or teams aren’t functioning optimally, productivity takes a hit. Tasks take longer to complete, and the quality of work may decline. Dysfunctional teams also experience increased absenteeism. Team members may choose to avoid meetings or work altogether, leading to high absenteeism rates. Lack of effective communication is another hallmark of dysfunctional teams, leading to many negative ramifications. Teams experiencing conflict often struggle with ineffective communication; information is withheld, misunderstandings abound, and conflicts usually escalate. Additionally, low employee morale becomes a significant issue. Team members may become disengaged or disheartened (and apathy may run amok). Finally, a high turnover rate becomes a problem, taking a heavy toll on the workload and emotional well-being of the group, as team members choose to leave the organization.

5 Leadership Strategies for Avoiding Dysfunctional Teams

1. Lead by Example

Leading by example is a fundamental principle of effective leadership. It involves demonstrating the behaviors, values, and work ethic that you expect from your team members.

  • Consistency: Effective leaders consistently model desired behaviors. When team members see their leaders consistently adhering to high standards, they are more likely to follow suit.

  • Transparency: Transparency in decision-making and actions is imperative. Be open about your thought processes and reasoning behind decisions, especially if the decisions that are made are tough or unpopular ones. Transparency builds trust – people may not like your decision, but they will trust that you will be honest with them about how the decision was made and its impact on their work.

  • Accountability: Hold yourself accountable for your actions and admit when you make mistakes. Demonstrating accountability sets a precedent for team members to do the same.

  • Empathy: Show empathy and understanding towards your team members. It’s essential to understand their challenges, needs, and perspectives. When team members see that you care about their well-being, they are more likely to reciprocate.

2. Create and Promote a Culture of Trust

Fostering a culture of trust is paramount for a healthy work environment. Trust is the foundation upon which strong teams are built. Following are the characteristics of a trust-based culture.

  • Trustworthiness: Leaders must be trustworthy themselves. Keep commitments, maintain confidentiality, and be consistent in your actions. When trust is reciprocal, it flourishes.

  • Encourage Risk-Taking: Encourage calculated risk-taking within your team. When team members feel safe to take risks, they are more likely to innovate and push boundaries, ultimately benefiting the organization.

  • Feedback and Recognition: Provide regular feedback and recognition for a job well done. Acknowledge team members’ contributions and provide constructive feedback when necessary. Recognizing their efforts fosters trust and motivation.

  • Conflict Resolution: Address conflicts promptly and impartially. When conflicts arise, ensure they are resolved fairly and in a way that respects all parties involved. This demonstrates your commitment to maintaining a fair and just work environment.

3. Be Approachable

Being an approachable leader creates an atmosphere where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, feedback, and vulnerabilities. Following are ways to enhance your approachability:

  • Open-Door Policy: Maintain an open-door policy where team members can approach you with questions or concerns. Make yourself available and accessible, whether in person or virtually.

  • Active Listening: Practice active listening by giving your full attention when team members are speaking. Show empathy and understanding and ask follow-up questions to delve deeper into their perspectives.

  • Nonverbal Communication: Pay attention to your nonverbal cues. Maintain eye contact, use open body language, and avoid dismissive gestures. Your nonverbal communication can influence how approachable you appear. And remember, more than 75% of all communication is nonverbal.

  • Empower Others: Encourage team members to take initiative and make decisions within their roles. Empower them to solve problems and contribute to the team’s success. This not only boosts confidence but also promotes approachability.

4. Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is at the heart of every successful organization. Leaders must communicate clearly, concisely, and consistently. Following are ways to enhance your communication skills:

  • Clarity and Simplicity: KISS: Keep it Simple and Succinct, i.e., keep your messages simple and easy to understand. Avoid jargon and technical language when communicating with a diverse team. Ensure that everyone can grasp the message. The more important the message is, the more important it is to keep the message clear and simple.

  • Active and Transparent Communication: Regularly communicate with your team about organizational goals, updates, and changes. Transparency builds trust, and active communication keeps everyone informed and aligned.

  • Two-Way Communication: Encourage two-way communication by soliciting feedback and ideas from your team. Create channels where team members can express their opinions and concerns.

  • Know Your Audience and Speak Their Language: Tailor your communication style to your audience. Some team members may prefer written updates, while others may prefer face-to-face meetings. Adapt to their preferences for more effective communication.

5. Invest in Professional Development

Investing in professional development not only benefits individual team members but it also strengthens the organization. It is amazing to me how many companies are penny wise and yet pound foolish when it comes to the training and development of their people (and teams).

Following are ways to grow your people and, by proxy, your teams.

  • Individual Development Plans: Work with each team member to create an individual development plan (IDP) that aligns with their career goals and the organization’s needs. Regularly review and update these plans.

  • Training and Skill Building: Provide access to training programs, workshops, and resources that help team members acquire new skills and knowledge. Support their continuous learning journey.

  • Mentorship and Coaching: Encourage mentorship and coaching within the organization. Pair experienced team members with those looking to grow in their roles. Mentorship fosters skill development and career progression. Invest in professional executive coaches to enhance professional growth and development.

  • Recognition and Promotion: Recognize and reward team members who show initiative to invest in their professional development and make valuable contributions. Promote from within whenever possible to show the organization’s commitment to growth.

Dysfunctional teams are challenges that most (if not all) organizations face at some point. However, with the right leadership approach, these issues can be addressed and resolved constructively.

Dr. Patty Ann

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