What Do Dysfunctional Teams Look Like Right Now? | AIIR Consulting

How the AIIR Team Effectiveness Survey Can Help Leaders Spot and Solve the Three Most Common Problems with Remote or Hybrid Teams

As companies begin to consider what a post-pandemic workplace may look like, a survey of 130 HR leaders showed that more than 90% intend to allow teams to work remotely at least some of the time.

For most, that’s welcome news. Microsoft found that 73% of workers surveyed expressed a desire for flexible remote work options post-pandemic. And, we have learned through recent experience that a hybrid workplace offers numerous benefits to employers, too. One study predicts that the increase in productivity produced by the large-scale adoption of remote work, combined with cost savings on office space and equipment, will provide companies a net benefit of $11,000 per employee per year. 

But, managing a hybrid team is complex. And, in an environment in which most team interactions are remote, it can be difficult to diagnose dysfunction before it impacts performance. In our experience coaching remote and hybrid teams at top organizations around the world, we have seen that there are three types of dysfunctional teams. Below, we discuss how to spot these three types of dysfunctional teams and address them before it’s too late.

What Makes a Hybrid Team Work?

Decades of research show that teams require two basic ingredients: a strong team culture and high team productivity. Team Culture describes how a team interacts and how it feels to be on that team — the trust and safety, dialogue, and cohesion that enables high-performance. Team Productivity describes how efficiently and effectively a team gets work done - how aligned they are, how well they coordinate execution, and how they learn and adapt. 

High-performing teams have both a strong team culture and high team productivity. Teams with weak culture, low productivity, or both of these are dysfunctional teams. Dysfunctional teams fall into one of three categories: driven teams, comfortable teams, and frozen teams. 

Driven Teams: Everyone is Burned Out

Driven Teams are highly productive but limited by weak culture.

On the surface, driven teams appear to be built for success: team meetings are structured, team leaders establish clear roles and priorities, and team members hold themselves and each other accountable for their work. In other words, they’re built to drive results. 

But, without the foundation of team culture to support this productivity, team performance will eventually collapse. This happens especially quickly in a hybrid workplace. When members of a driven team are all in the office, interactions around the water cooler or before or after meetings can act as a pseudo-culture, masking the team’s dysfunction and allowing it to maintain performance — for a while.

How can hybrid teams build the culture necessary to sustain high performance? Read "What's Left After the Culture Crash?"

When these interactions are replaced with endless video conferences that are strictly business, team members experience a sense of disconnection and disengagement. Without context about each others’ lived experiences, team members start to make assumptions about how much or little others are working, sparking conflicts that go unresolved.

Eventually, faced with the pressures of maintaining productivity without the energy that organic culture creates, team members begin to burn out. And, because individuals on driven teams tend to operate more as independent contributors and focus primarily on protecting their own self-interest, that burnout leads to attrition.

Comfortable Teams: Nothing is Getting Done

Comfortable teams have a strong culture but low productivity. 

On comfortable teams, team members tend to like and appreciate each other. They are supportive and respectful. They have strong relationships in work that often extend beyond the office. Most teams with a strong culture have worked hard to maintain those relationships as they transitioned to a remote or hybrid environment. While most of us gave up on virtual happy hours a few months into the pandemic, theirs are still going strong.

But while comfortable teams have a strong culture, they typically lack a clear and compelling sense of purpose. Team meetings are held without specific agendas and end without establishing goals or assigning tasks. Leaders already struggled to communicate and align their employees. A pre-pandemic survey showed that only 50% of workers know what is expected of them at work. In a hybrid workplace, this lack of communication and alignment is amplified. Comfortable teams in hybrid work environments also find it difficult to challenge each other or adapt to changing business conditions. Their general supportiveness reduces the healthy challenges required for innovation, particularly in virtual workplaces. 

When someone on a comfortable team fails to complete a task or reach a project milestone, team members tend to give them a pass and often assume circumstances out of their control were the cause of the poor performance. All of this makes comfortable teams slow to adapt. In the complex and always-changing environment we are facing, this will prove problematic.

For hybrid teams, assumptions can be culture killers. Here's how to stop them from hurting your team's performance.

Frozen Teams: Everything is Terrible

Frozen teams suffer from weak culture and low productivity. Like comfortable teams, frozen teams struggle to establish clear goals or assign tasks. Strategy is supplanted by reactivity. Members of frozen teams spend most of their time putting out fires.

Instead of productive conflict around particular issues, conflict on frozen teams often becomes personal, especially in moments of stress and uncertainty. As a result, it’s not uncommon for members on a frozen team to limit their interactions with others either personally or professionally. Members who feel overwhelmed simply disengage, becoming unresponsive on messaging apps and dropping off weekly calls. For members of frozen teams, the pain of engaging is just too difficult, and it is simply easier to hide in a virtual work environment.

The AIIR Team Effectiveness Survey

The transition to a hybrid workplace will be challenging for even the most high-performing teams. Spotting and solving problematic patterns before they become disruptive will be the key to success.

But while most teams fit into one of the three types of dysfunctional teams described above, understanding the dynamics causing their dysfunction can be difficult, especially on a remote or hybrid team. And, unfortunately, most of the team effectiveness solutions on the market are geared toward traditional teams that meet in person and stay intact for long periods of time.

The AIIR Team Effectiveness Survey is a revolutionary tool designed for the way teams work today and how they will evolve in the future. The 36-item assessment measures Team Culture, Team Productivity, and the nuanced dynamics driving the teams’ patterns of behavior. Then, it puts that information into an actionable, easy-to-understand report that helps you turn insights into improvements.

Build High-Performing Teams Across Your Organization

Our suite of solutions helps organizations scale team development across the enterprise, build high-performance teaming into the organizational culture, and supercharge in-person, remote, and hybrid teams.

Contact us to learn more about how you can leverage data to build a more effective organization and empower HR and talent leaders to drive business results.

Ren Wiebe

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AIIR Consulting

AIIR Consulting is a global leadership development consultancy dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and performance of leaders and their organizations. Through the strategic integration of coaching and technology, AIIR Consulting brings agile leadership development to today’s connected leader.

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