Are you finding yourself stuck in a really dysfunctional team? Are you finally ready to make it better because you can’t afford the lost productivity or the stressful conflict? Well, here are some tips on how to move forward.

Wait Before You Jump In

If you’re experiencing a really bad team dynamic, poor interpersonal relationships, eroding trust, disengagement or a lot of friction, you may want to start talking about the dynamics within the team right away and focus on everybody’s behavior.

However, I’m going to encourage you to wait.

Starting a conversation by saying things like, “When you do this, it affects me this way”, can make people’s defeses go up really quickly as they may not be ready to hear feedback about how their behavior affects others. Also, these kinds of conversations rarely reach any helpful conclusion, they just make people defensive or paint someone in a bad light. So, it is best to hold off on starting a conversation about the dysfunctions within the team until you know exactly what you’e going to say.

Focus on Team Alignment

On the other hand, if you start the conversation talking about the purpose and mandate of the team, focusing on their alignment to the ultimate shared goal, then you’ll begin to see a much more constructive conversation take place.

Starting with questions such as, “what is the business counting on us to achieve?” or “what are the most important outcomes we have to produce?” will get people to relax immediately. It makes the meeting seem much more strategic and business-focused, rather than coming at your team with accusations and finger-pointing.

Additionally, the answers to these questions are always changing and evolving because of new trends and changes in the economy. This gives you a chance to argue that the team dynamic has to change. It isn’t that anyone is doing anything wrong, but the world around us is changing and so we need to adapt and change with it. It is a much less critical and judgmental way to approach this conversation and is less likely to evoke people’s defensiveness.

Another reason to lay out the land with your team is because, in my experience as a team facilitator, a tremendous amount of things that manifest as trust issues within teams can be traced back to a miscommunication with expectations.

Person A has one set of expectations and person B has another set, so when person A doesn’t deliver on something that person B expected them to, it can cause disappointment and a break down in trust. But, it’s not that person A has low integrity or isn’t capable of delivering what is expected, it’s just that their expectations weren’t aligned with person B’s. This is an issue that ultimately falls to the boss as they failed to get everyone’s priorities and expectations on the same page, which caused a lack of trust to develop.

How To Behave Differently

If you have a dysfunctional team, it’s better to start by asking questions about the groups aspirations and how you can get there. You can then morph the conversation towards changing behaviors in order to meet that new target. Then, you’ve actually made your way to the underlying team dynamic issues without being too direct. And, hopefully your team members will begin to realize, “Oh, so I can’t behave in this way”, or “I need to do this more if we want to meet this new target.”

The epiphanies are going to start to happen without you having to call it out. This is when you can start asking questions about changing behaviors, with it becoming a much easier and less defensive conversation.

This may be sound like counterintuitive advice if you’re feeling a lot of friction on your team, but don’t obviously call it out. Start instead with conversations about what you need to accomplish. Address any of the trust issues that come from gaps in expectations as this is a much safer and better place to start to get the conversation rolling.

If you have these team dynamics issues or interpersonal issues, here are some tips about how to get out of a conflict that’s really personal.

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