Recognizing Dysfunction: Signs Your Team Needs Intervention

by | Jun 18, 2024

Darcy Luoma is one of America’s most highly credentialed coaches. She’s worked in 48 industries, with more than 500 organizations, and has impacted tens of thousands of leaders and employees.

I was talking to a potential client recently when she said the words I so often hear.

“I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, Darcy. I have a really good team.”

From there she lowered her voice and started sharing details about her team in a way that felt like she was sharing a deep secret.

She told me about the conflict she has on their team, her wish for direct communication and her frustration that they spend so much time on these interpersonal issues. 

She was shocked to hear what I said next:

“Your team is totally normal.”


It’s time for us to have a conversation.

Every team has its unique dynamics, and it’s not uncommon for those dynamics to become dysfunctional – hindering progress and success. Recognizing the early warning signs of dysfunction can help get your team on the right track.

Let me say this again…. dysfunction is normal. Every team experiences disagreements or missteps in communication. Unfortunately, what is also common is that teams ignore it. Or hope it’ll just get better on its own. Or pretend it’s not that big of a deal.

Struggling with your team’s dysfunction doesn’t have to be normal. 

Let’s take a look at three common traps that can signal your team could benefit from a course correction (or even a full-on intervention!): Perception Deception, Difficulty Dynamic, and Debate Deficit.


Perception Deception: The Illusion of Understanding

One of the most common traps in team dynamics is Perception Deception. Each team member has their own unique perspective on what’s working and what’s not. From there, they either assume everyone feels the same way or spend time convincing others that their perception is wrong. Instead, uncovering these differing viewpoints can lead to a deeper understanding and more effective collaboration.

Signs of Perception Deception:

  • Miscommunication: Frequent misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
  • Hidden Agendas: Team members withhold information or have side conversations.
  • Fragmented Vision: Lack of a unified direction or purpose.


Difficulty Dynamic: They are the problem. (I’m just fine.)

Every team member brings their own style and approach to the table, which can be a tremendous strength. However, if these differences are not addressed openly, they can lead to friction and tension. Eventually, we label them as difficult. At that point, it’s nearly impossible to achieve a positive working relationship.

Signs of Difficulty Dynamic:

  • Silent Blame: Seeing difficult people as the reason for the team not being successful. 
  • Post-Meeting Meetings: Discussions happening outside of official meetings to vent.
  • Unacknowledged Strengths: Team members feel their methods are not valued.


Debate Deficit: The Silence of Ideas

Debate Deficit occurs when team members don’t feel comfortable sharing their views or debating ideas. This lack of healthy conflict stifles innovation and problem-solving. Successful teams create an environment where debate is not only accepted but encouraged.

Signs of Debate Deficit:

  • Lack of Innovation: Few new ideas or creative solutions are being proposed.
  • Passive Agreement: Team members say they agree to a course of action to avoid conflict, not because they truly believe in the solution.
  • Unspoken Disagreements: Issues aren’t discussed openly, leading to unresolved tension.


Don’t get stuck in these traps

Recognizing these traps is the first step toward creating a healthier, more productive team. By addressing Perception Deception, Difficulty Dynamic, and Debate Deficit, you can transform dysfunction into a driving force for positive change and growth.

The truth is that while dysfunction is common, the teams that achieve the best results are the ones that address these traps by designing how they want to work together. Making an effort to get out of the trap is not a choice that every team makes, because these conversations can be awkward at first! But making the effort is what will move your team from “normal” to high-performing. 

Ready to get out of these traps? Take the first step today and have a conversation with your team. 

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