An Easy Way to Discuss Dysfunctional Behavior at Work

Whether your team is just starting up, or has the battle scars of a team fighting for results, they need to find a way to talk about the behaviors getting in their way. Great leaders look for ways to make this conversation easier.

Dysfunctional behavior can be hard to talk about because it feels so personal.  Many times people wait to have important difficult conversations until the issue has escalated. It’s harder then.

A Functional Conversation on Dysfunction

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Plato

I like to use this exercise early in a team’s formation to get folks talking about common experiences and appropriate remedies as early in the game as possible. This conversation also provides a safer feeling infrastructure to surface important dynamics a mature team needs to share without direct confrontation.

Step 1:

Give every team member 6-7 Post-it notes. Ask them to identify the behaviors that (in their experience) most get in the way of results or team progress. It’s important to tee-up that this is based on a lifetime of experience, not just this team. Then ask them to write one behavior on each Post-it.

Step 2:

As team members are ready, have them bring their Post-it notes to a wall or white board and begin to self-organize them into clusters. Enjoy the banter as the clusters form.

Step 3:

Circle the biggest dysfunctions.

My experience shows they will read something like this (I’d love for you to share your findings):

  1. Arrogance (by a landslide)
  2. Unmotivated (and/or lazy)
  3. Self-serving motives and actions
  4. Lack of communication
  5. Disrespect
  6. Stubborness
  7. Drama
  8. Anger-bullying
  9. Passive-Aggressive

Step 4:

Take the top few categories and invite the team to share what they would do when encountered with such scenarios. Encourage them to share stories of best practices they’ve used in the past.

Step 5:

Develop a set of standards or team norms for how such issues would be addressed if they were to occur on this team. Encourage the sharing of stories from best experiences and overcoming dysfunctional behavior.

It’s very important for teams to talk about their own dysfunction. But early in the game, it may be easier to talk about standards and stories to establish a framework for the future.