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5 Ways to Identify a Dysfunctional Team

Want to know what a group’s culture is like — quickly? You can learn how to identify a dysfunctional team by understanding specific group characteristics.


In this video, Michael Grinder, the pioneer of nonverbal communication, touches upon the book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni and discusses five things to watch for when you review a group’s culture.

5 ways to identify a dysfunctional team

  1. Look for the oral learners and processors in the group.
  2. Watch how your group members listen to what’s being said.
  3. Find the “rosebushes” in your group.
  4. Find the group ambassador (or liaison).
  5. See how (or if) the leader wields their power.

Read the modified transcript to “How to Identify a Dysfunctional Team” below.

Michael Grinder here.

You know, Patrick Lencioni did a super job on his book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I want to add nonverbals and a little bit of, if you would, group dynamics to what he did.

In order to talk about dysfunctional groups and teams, we have to first define what we mean by functional.

Three ingredients [of group functionality]:

  1. Do we agree with why we’re here, and do we agree on our outcome? What’s our, if you want to call it, goals?
  2. Do we agree to the methods of how we’re gonna get to those goals and outcomes?
  3. Are we doing it?

We all have been members of groups that were very strong on the goals but didn’t agree on the methods. We have other groups that are very strong in terms of, “yeah, we agree this is how we’re going to proceed, but what are we proceeding towards?” And then, are we doing it, instead of just that mission statement as you walk into the building that says why we’re here?

Three ingredients. If you want to recognize if a group is dysfunctional in terms of not doing those three, go to a meeting where they’re making decisions. You’ll have a quick reveal of what that culture is like inside that group.

#1: Look for the oral learners and processors in the group

See if you have someone who doesn’t have any paper in front of them, compared to people that do have paper in front of them. So the person that doesn’t have any paper, a lot of times they’re oral. They like to process aloud. They love brainstorming.

What happens, though, is that meeting’s going to be longer. Do we agree as a method that it’s okay to be long? Some groups do, some groups don’t. So watch for oral learners and processors.

#2: Watch how your group members listen to what’s being said

The second group that you really want to watch for is how do they listen, and we’re gonna give you two listening styles.

One style is very supportive. Mm, ah, mm, ah. They nod their head, they lean forward, they make encouraging sounds. That person is a high supporter of the process.

There’s another kind of listener, and it goes like this. This person who breaks eye contact, looks away, very different in terms of how they listen.

Now here’s what you wanna understand. This person here, what they’re doing is they’re going like this, mm, ah, not so much that they agree with what the person is saying, but they’re supporting the process. So don’t interpret mm, ah, as agreement. It is support of the process.

What about the person who looks away, breaks eye contact, rolls their eyes? This person wants to get to the goals, let’s make a decision.

So you’re gonna have usually people from both styles, one that wants to move it along, be nice, be supportive, let everyone talk; the other one, let’s get to the point. Watch those two, are they balanced out, and do they respect each other? Makes a nice difference.

#3: Find the “rosebushes” in your group

Now the third one is, to me, the one that’s really exciting to watch for. We have a prop to show you what to watch for. Wine bottle? Yeah. See, historically, almost all of the labels, especially those that came from France, always had a rosebud on it. This one doesn’t, sorry about that.

Why did they have a rosebud? If you have a row of grapes and you want to know if they’re healthy, what did we do historically? You planted a rose bush at the front of the row of grapes. Why?

The rose is susceptible to the same diseases as the grapes. But they get their disease before the grapes do.

So as someone is walking along working during the day called the vintner, big word, vintner, they watch the rosebush.

If the rosebush is healthy, then the grapes are.

Watch for in your group: Who’s the rose? Who indicates whether we’re functional or dysfunctional early so you can do something about it? You don’t want to wait to intervene until the grapes are diseased. Do it when the rosebush is.

So far we have people that tend to talk orally, we have people that tend to listen very supportively, and people that want to get to a decision. But here’s the big one: try to find the rose in front of everyone else. They react earlier than everyone else, watch them.

You have your four grapes. This is the norm, these are the average people, the people that you want to make sure are aboard. You want to find out who your rose is.

How do you identify the rose? They react early and represent the majority of people.

So if you see someone kind of indicate by pulling back or breaking eye contact, and that person is usually an accurate representation of the rest of the people, that’s the person that you want to watch. That’s your rose.

If the rose is okay, your group is okay.

#4: Find your group ambassador (or liaison)

Next chair, probably the most important chair. This is called the ambassador.

The ambassador is someone who, remember the group over there, when they listen, they were going mm, ah, mm, ah? All of those mm ahs believe that this person here is a member of their group.

But what’s amazing is the people that rolled their eyes, that wanted to get to the endpoint, they see this person also as a member of their group.

The technical term for this person is liaison.

You’ve got to have liaisons. You either hire them or you promote them, or you know what a consultant is? It’s an outside hired liaison ambassador that goes around, talks to everyone.

Last chair of this meeting that lets us know are we being functional or not.

#5: See how (or if) the leader wields their power

This is the chairperson, represented, of course, by the gavel. Here’s what you’re gonna find. Really highly functional groups know who has the power, but the person who has that power, they very infrequently use it. Why?

The less often you use power, the more effective the power is.

If you can, see if the leader, the person with the positional power, uses influence first and power as a second choice.

So you’ve been around the table, here’s what you look for when you’re trying to figure out your group or other groups, if they’re functional or not.

Again, thank you, Patrick, for bringing up the topic and making us so aware of it.

I hope that you have good luck in always having a liaison with you. Watch your rosebush so you know what’s going on. Please try to be aware of people, how they listen, and see if people are more visual or oral.

Michael Grinder here, thank you.

Thanks for reading! For more information about functional and dysfunctional teams, sign up for our monthly nonverbal communication tips newsletter.

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