Five behaviors that undermine team effectiveness

Published in INSIGHT - Fall 2017
by Tom Donaldson

1. Team members are hiding, pretending, or trying to put something over on the rest of the team.
Years ago, I was a new manager in a leading computer software company. I had an assignment to lead a discussion on a certain topic in a meeting, but forgot about it until the meeting started, and I looked at the agenda. Feeling an immediate need to “cover my rear end," I sent a frantic instant message to the admin for our group, saying something like, “Do you have a link for that info on blah-blah-blah?” Fortunately, she came through, and I was able to “fake it” without being detected.

The point of this story is that I had no stomach for saying, “I messed up…I’m not prepared on this topic.” Although I survived the meeting, I represented a weak link in the team, in which no one ever wanted to say, “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake," not to mention, “I don’t know." to get beyond this fundamental step.

2. Your team is afraid to bring opposing ideas to the table, fearing personal attacks and ultimately settling for artificial harmony.
Some team members may be egotistical enough to believe their ideas are superior and anyone who disagrees is an idiot. In contrast, most people hate the idea of confrontation and quickly step back from spirited discussion around volatile topics. The result is that the team pulls
back from debate of the issue. At best, failure postpones agreement and may totally derail the possibility of adopting a specific course of action.

3. Your team lacks commitment.
Lack of commitment is a direct result of the previous two failures. Team members evade trust and continue to harbor their own internal “non-negotiables” with no willingness to compromise or collaborate on the solution. Since the proposed plan of action does not get buy-in, it will ultimately fail as people protect their own territory or take a nuanced version of the plan back to their team, group, or constituents.

Accountability is missing in your team, or there is a mixed message on accountability.
You have a course of action clearly stated, but there are outliers who are still opposing the plan, or at least waffling on support. Team members quickly notice which of their peers are not on the same page, but the team leader seems to let them get away with their dissension.

As a result, no team member wants to hold his or her peers accountable, the team continues to go their separate ways, supporting the plan, opposing the plan, or reinventing some hybrid of the plan based on their own priorities.

5. Your team fails to achieve a shared result that benefits the entire organization.
Some team members may be happy with the outcome if they were able to gain individual recognition or preserve a business process that is more comfortable for them. In the meantime, the stated goals and objectives remain unmet, which frustrates everyone involved, and jeopardizes satisfaction of customers, clients, or constituents.

Tom Donaldson is a coach, trainer and speaker, I work with people in corporate, nonprofit and religious professions who want insights on how to be better leaders through values-oriented leadership.  He can be reached at