One of the biggest challenges that business leaders face is recognizing dysfunction and correcting it in a meaningful way. Often, dysfunction looks innocuous, which leads many leaders to ignore it and simply hope that it will resolve on its own. If left unchecked, however, dysfunction causes rifts between people at a company and can seriously hamper productivity and growth.
Leaders have a responsibility to bring people with disparate points of view together and unite them around a common goal. They must remain vigilant for signs of dysfunction and address the problem quickly to resolve the issue or prevent it from getting worse. Some signs of dysfunction at a company include:
While departments do operate independently to some extent, companies are most effective when these different groups regularly communicate and consult with each other. When a department develops a silo mentality, meaning that it largely operates on its own, an “us-versus-them” mentality can develop. When leaders see these silos starting to appear, they need to figure out what has caused the group to operate independently or why they have chosen to do so. Launching programs that foster collaboration or recognizing personal and group achievements can help demolish the silo, depending on the root of the problem. Sometimes, entire workflows and company operational procedures must be changed so that different departments must work more closely together to get their jobs done.
Lack of consensus
Healthy debate among team members can be extremely beneficial. However, when it comes time to solve a problem, everyone needs to be on board with the solution—or at least believe that the decision-making process was fair and transparent, and that everyone’s opinion was considered. When people do not feel heard or respected, they can buck against the decision and cause friction. Often, this problem can be resolved by simply recognizing the disagreement and allowing the person to speak their mind. At the same time, leaders need to ensure that they understand the underlying issue. For example, if someone does not feel comfortable talking and debating in the larger group, this problem deserves attention. Ultimately, having a consensus helps the team function more efficiently.
Some leaders accept that warring is part of the normal office culture. After all, it is not uncommon to hear something along the lines of, “Sales and marketing are just naturally at odds.” This sort of mentality is not natural and will lead to major divisions within a company. A clear distinction separates healthy competition and rivalry. While competition comes from a place of respect and alignment around goals, rivalry leads to more dysfunction, encouraging co-workers to actively undermine each other’s efforts. Everyone at a company is working toward the same goal, and it is the leader’s responsibility to remind everyone of this fact and ensure that everyone stays on the same page.
When a small group of employees has a special connection, the synergistic effect can result in some truly great results. At the same time, leaders need to make sure that these groups do not become exclusive. Sometimes, people who naturally get along well will push away others who don’t fit into their clique. Insular teams can cause great tension, anxiety, irritation, and other precursors of serious dysfunction. Leaders need to make sure that these groups continue to work with other people, and respect the multitude of different points of view around them. This way, they can continue working as a team while making everyone feel included.
Companies function most effectively when people feel connected to their co-workers, as well as the larger purpose of the company. Business leaders need to pay close attention to how their employees are feeling and address any signs of disconnection. Disconnection can cause a breakdown in communication within and between teams and drain overall motivation. To address disconnection, business leaders need to judge whether the issue stems from problems with the mission or with how employees relate to each other. Involving employees in important company decisions can help them feel more connected to the mission, while team-building events can create connections between employees. In addition, philanthropic outreach and volunteer programs can help address both of these issues.
At the most basic level, employees must have all the resources required to complete their jobs. When people do not feel like they have access to critical resources, they can become frustrated and lose motivation. Unfortunately, leaders do not always pay close attention to what their employees need or create easy ways for requesting access to new resources. Quick check-ins with employees can help ensure that they have everything they need for success; it’s also important to foster an open, sharing environment that encourages people to speak up when they need something. At the same time, having an anonymous or semi-anonymous means of requesting resources can also help relieve tension.
Leaders also need to be attuned to their own dysfunctional behavior. For many leaders, one of the most common sources of dysfunction is pet projects. These projects receive funding and support long after they should, due to the leader’s emotional attachment and zealous advocacy. Sometimes, leaders will agree to stop a project and then figure out a new approach to revive it. This energy is largely wasted and can make team members feel ignored or disregarded, and become disillusioned when they see evidence that the leader’s personal feelings count more than the company’s avowed mission. Managers are often quick to notice when their employees are wasting time on side projects, but the best leaders understand that they need to look at their own actions and motivations, too.