Why Teams Fail


A recent talk from Dr. Tan at Claremont McKenna College has got my wheels turning on how important teamwork can be not only in organizations, but also in sports or in a classroom. Teamwork in the workplace offers a company and its staff the opportunity to become more familiar and to learn how to work together. The incorporation of teams into the workplace has become a powerful organizational tool used by leaders. Organizations are now more networked, flexible, and dynamic as outsourcing, globalization, and competitive pressures force organizations to rely on work teams (Blanchard, 2005). This increase of teams has shifted organizational structures and operations, forcing leaders to evaluate their leadership strategies (Devine et al., 1999; Rousseau, 1997). Understanding elements of teamwork will assist in developing company policies geared toward encouraging team growth in the workplace, thus enhancing productivity and profitability.

Patrick Lencioni (2005) explores the fundamental causes of organizational politics and team failure in his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” He focuses as well on the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to “row together.” What follows is a summary of these five dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of trust—unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. This is the most important and the foundation for any successful team. Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors. They get to a point where they can be completely open with one another, without filters
  2. Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate. Teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to an organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.
  3. Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization. Teams that engage in unfiltered conflict are able to achieve genuine buy-in around important decisions, even when various members of the team initially disagree. That’s because they ensure that all opinions and ideas are put on the table and considered, giving confidence to team members that no stone has been left un-turned.
  4. Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards. Teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance do not hesitate to hold one another accountable for adhering to those decisions and standards. What is more, they don’t rely on the team leader as the primary source of accountability – they go directly to their peers.
  5. Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success. Teams that trust one another, engage in conflict, commit to decisions, and hold one another accountable are very likely to set aside their individual needs and agendas and focus almost exclusively on what is best for the team. They do not give in to the temptations to place their departments, career aspirations, or ego-driven status ahead of the collective results that define team success.

Looking back now at teams you have been a part of, consider:

  • What behaviors – by their presence or absence – caused the failure in a team you have worked on in the past?
  • What factors contributed to some of your teams succeeding and others failing?


Blanchard, O. (2005). European unemployment: The evolution of facts and ideas. NBER Working paper series, 11750. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w11750

Devine, D. J., Clayton, L. D., Philips, J. L., Dunford, B. B., & Melner, S. B. (1999). Team in organizations: Prevalence, characteristics, and effectiveness. Small Group Research, 30, 678-711.

Image: http://inlpcenter.org/what-makes-teams-of-highly-paid-experts-fail-miserably/

Patrick, L. (2005). Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team.

Rousseau, D. M. (1997). Organizational behavior in the new organizational era. Annual Review of Psychology, 48(1), 515-546.

Tan (2105). Why Teams Fail. Speech at Claremont McKenna College.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s