How to Spot Dysfunction and Build a Better Team

A lot of things in life are simpler than we think, Jeff Gibson says. Leading a team is one of them.

As President of Table Group Consulting, Gibson works with CEOs and executive teams to strengthen team and organizational health. The Table Group is known for founder Patrick Lencioni’s books, including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Advantage, The Ideal Team Player and Death By Meeting.

In more than 20 years of consulting, Gibson has seen how a healthy team can foster fulfillment and success, and how an unhealthy team can derail performance, retention and results.

Just as a fad diet is no replacement for healthy nutrition, exercise and sleep habits, there’s no one-time, quick fix for the challenges teams face. Instead, it’s about taking simple actions to build connection, communication and trust long-term.

“It’s the leaders that can stick to those simple disciplines — and not get bored or overcomplicate it — who are going to be truly successful at the end of the day,” he says.

We recently sat down with Gibson to learn more about what makes a healthy team. Here are six simple takeaways to help you and your team work better together.

1. Meetings are a Window into Team Health

Teams can take assessments to get a read on their health, but Gibson says the most common signs of dysfunction can be spotted in the conference room.

“The simplest thing we can do to evaluate an organization’s health and a team’s health is to watch how they interact in a meeting,” he says.

A high-functioning team will have honest interchanges with one another and unfiltered debate, he says. They get closure around decisions so that they can walk out of the room aligned.

A dysfunctional team, on the other hand, will often fall into issues like backchannel conversations.

“We call it a ‘conversation-after-the-conversation,’” Gibson says. “A team has a meeting and they think they’ve made a decision, and then right after the meeting, two or three people get together in somebody’s office to continue the conversation or take it off in a different direction. For some reason, they weren’t comfortable having that conversation as a whole, so they needed to go have it separately.”

Another sign of poor team health is triangulation — when team members go to their boss about peer-to-peer issues rather than confronting one another directly.

“When we can’t be direct with each other, when we’re positioning, when we’re more focused on our own stuff and when we’re not getting closure at the end of the meeting around what priorities are, we’re not a cohesive team,” Gibson says.

2. Healthy Teams Get Results

Results are the number one indicator of a team’s health.

“The ultimate measure of a great team is that they actually get a lot of stuff done, and they achieve what they say they’re going to achieve,” Gibson says. “If you love each other and you’re not getting stuff done, you’re not a great team.”

That being said, teams who produce results but don’t function well together are missing out on opportunities to maximize their potential across the board.

“If you hate each other and you get stuff done, you’re not a great team,” Gibson says.

3. Not Every Group Needs to be a Team

When you’re talking about a group of people at work, it can be easy to refer to them as a “team,” but Gibson says this can cause unnecessary confusion.

Not every group needs to be a team, and that’s okay — because being a team comes at a cost.

“It takes more time, it takes more effort, it takes more resources and it takes giving up control to really be a team,” he says. “The outcome at the end of the day is going to be greater as a result of investing all that. But if you don’t need to invest all that to achieve the outcome you need, then you probably shouldn’t, because it just confuses people.”

Overusing the word “team” can dilute its meaning, Gibson says — so it’s important that leaders understand the difference between a team and a group.

4. Teams Need to Slow Down to Go Fast

No matter how healthy your team is, don’t underestimate the benefits of getting away from the office together on a regular basis.

“The phrase that we use to describe it is something that comes from NASCAR: ‘You need to slow down before you can go fast,’” Gibson says. “In NASCAR, you slow down heading into the turn so that you can accelerate through it and coming out of it, and the same thing is true for a team.”

He recommends scheduling a few days every quarter to evaluate how you’re doing as an organization and as a team. Getting away from the day-to-day hustle of the office allows you to take a closer look at your company culture, check your progress on goals and strategies and develop stronger relationships with one another than you ever could in and average workday.

Slowing down might cost you a few days of work, but Gibson says that refusing to slow down can be even more costly.

“So many companies are just caught up in the craziness and energy of doing work that they don’t think they can actually take a breath and look around,” Gibson says. “When you don’t, there’s no way you’re going to be as effective as you could be.”

5. Fulfillment Starts with Team Health

In his consulting work, Gibson has seen how unhealthy leadership teams can wreak havoc on employees’ professional and personal lives.

“There are too many people in too many jobs who are miserable doing what they do,” he says.

On the flipside, he says, healthy teams who have clarity around their purpose, goals, roles and strategies develop more fulfilled team members.

These employees enjoy their work more, make better decisions, go home with more energy and positively impact their friends, family members and community because they have the benefit of working well with their team.

6. The World Needs More Great Teams (And It Always Will)

Most of us can recall the excitement of being part of a great team at some point in our lives — and unfortunately, many of us can relate to the struggles of being part of a dysfunctional team, too.

Even as technology advances and organizations become more digital, teams will never lose the need to work better together.

“Artificial intelligence is never going to replace a team of people sitting around a table making difficult decisions using their intuition and their logic and their emotion,” Gibson says. “There’s a core need as a human to be in community with others. Why would we go to work and avoid that opportunity when we can reinforce it in a way that’s meaningful?”


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