Is there really “Fun” in Dysfunction?

I have the opportunity to work with groups or teams in a variety of shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  I really enjoy this work and by doing this I gain a perspective of just how teams can be successful, or not, based on how they approach issues and how they work together.

The phrase “putting the fun in dysfunction” is a phrase I use often when it comes to teams.  All teams have dysfunction and agreeing that this is the case is always a good starting point.  What makes any team better is first realizing they have some level of dysfunction and then understanding and admitting that things may need to change in order to remove some of that dysfunction.

In order to add more “fun” and remove more “dysfunction” it would be worthwhile to give some of the warning signs of dysfunction in teams.  The list below is not an exhaustive list, but each of the points made comes from an actual real-life situation I have personally been involved in.  No names will be assigned for obvious reasons, but I think many of you will read these and sigh.

Signs of Dysfunction:

  • Lack of a clear common, shared vision-I cannot tell you how often this occurs.  Teams may think that all members have the same vision and outcomes in mind, but in many cases this is not the fact.  Getting this core issue right is one of the most important things your team or any team can do.  Don’t be afraid to call people out when doing this, just do it in a constructive way.  A little conflict now will help avoid major dysfunction later.
  • Lack of clearly defined roles-Once the vision is established, the team members will need to clearly understand what each member’s role is in achieving that vision.  This does not mean that there will not be some “role creep” or role growth, but it does mean that people need to play their positions well in order for the team to be effective.
  • No plan of action-Don’t confuse the plan of action with the vision; they are not the same.  The vision will guide your team in a general direction, but the plan of action will  help define what each member will do individually as well as collectively.  In addition this plan of action will help sequence the events that need to take place.  There is a sequential nature to all work and some things can be done concurrently while others need to occur in a specific order.  This is a key area of concern for many teams.
  • No method for measuring results-The plan of action helps define what will be done and who will do it.  Measuring results will help you determine just how well the team and its members are keeping to the plan and the timetable.  If SMART goals are used in the plan of action, this becomes pretty easily measurable in the results phase.  Another method you can use here is to establish some key process indicators (KPI) or set up a dashboard to measure ongoing progress.  What gets measured, matters.
  • No accountability-Team members need to be held accountable for their work.  They need to be rewarded when things go well and they need to be coached or reprimanded when they do not go well.  Be sure to recognize which items are responsible by individuals versus groups of individuals.  A group task is the responsibility of the group and the group members should all share in the success or failure of their work.  Don’t single people out unless they have a component of individual responsibility.
  • No celebration for success or no “post mortem-Most teams are not forever and they will band together for one task and then be reassigned for another.  Teams that are successful should be recognized and they should celebrate their success.  Teams who are not successful should analyze why they did not reach their goals.  Whether successful or not, all teams should conduct some type of post-mortem at the end of a project to discuss what went well, what did not, and what learning can we take forward from this engagement.  Lack of a post mortem is very common and this leaves so many key learning points on the table.

I have to give credit to Katzenbach and Smith for this model.  I use their book “” often in my work and this list of items follows their team vernacular pretty closely.

You can help your team have Fun in the workplace.  Avoid the points listed above and you can minimize the Dysfunction.