5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork

If your team has as much teamwork as a box of crayons without a child to guide them, don’t blame them. Consider what you may be doing to inadvertently sabotage their teamwork.

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork

  1. Insisting On A Team That Doesn’t Make Sense – I’ve seen so much energy and money wasted to improve the team dynamic when the real issue is organizational structure. A cluster of human beings is not a team. No one is bonding if the only common denominator is who they report to. If you can’t identify several common goals (beyond your performance agreement), consider the structure rather than organizing a team karaoke night. The best teams truly need one another to be successful. If you can’t change the structure, think harder about a few collaborative goals or projects that can get the team moving forward together.
  2. Ignoring The Obvious Dynamic – If everyone on your team is frustrated by one member, stop pretending it’s not an issue (yes, even if she’s an a player). I once worked on a team where one of our peers won a numbers-only based National recognition. Every one of her immediate peers understood the nasty back-stabbing dynamics beneath the surface. Our boss seemed to get it, but she got results, and results helped him. Instead of addressing it, he chose to call each of us individually and remind us of the right thing to do, to call her and congratulate her. The truth is, those calls had already begun. But his call assuming we couldn’t get there with her, reinforced the fact that we all had work to do in these relationships. Pushing us to be cooth was scratching the surface on a bigger issue that needed to be addressed.
  3. Fuzzy Vision – Teamwork blossoms when the group is inspired by a vision bigger than themselves. If all you’re doing is passing down organizational goals, you’re missing an opportunity to energize your team toward creating local magic. Everyone likes to be part of a winning team. See: Teams Need Vision Too.
  4. Misusing Your Staff Meetings – If you’re using your staff meetings as an opportunity for serial updates from your team, instead of a high-energy brainstorming of ways to collaborate, you’re wasting time. Trust me, everyone hates your meetings if all they’re really doing is reading out to you with no engagement from others. If you want your meetings to inspire teamwork, save updates for your one-on-ones, and then shorten the team readouts to what’s most relevant for the whole crew. Have updates conclude with statements such as and what this means to the team is or the implications for our team are. It will take a bit more time investment on your part, but the resulting teamwork will be worth it.
  5. Overusing Competition – Trash talk has its place, but it’s tricky. In many organizations there’s an unspoken stack ranking dynamic that’s already out there. See: 6 Secrets To Building Teams In A Stack-Ranked World. Instead of firing your team up to out do one another, reward the sharing of best practices and collaboration. Be sure that leadership toward the greater good and team behaviors are part of your performance evaluation and recognition strategy.
Posted in Communication, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. one practice I’ve found helpful is to celebrate victories by mentioning the entire team:
    We just won a difficult legal battle for X. He’s now safe in America. Z..you did his phone intake, y and z you provided the legal assistance, A, you organized the social services..B, you raised the money to pay the salaries….etc..

    I think it helps people realize a successful result involves the entire organization. Great post. As usual!

  2. Karin,

    Great message. I have been a part of some dysfunctional teams in my career & I am sure I will be again. Often times I don’t struggle with this with my direct reports, but like in your 2nd example I find it frustrates me more when it is happening among my peers and boss.

    What’s the best way to lead around that, without stepping on the toes of your boss?


    • Shawn, First, I have to admit to you that in the particular example I gave, I never did crack the code with her. I’m embarrassed to say that that situation brought out some ugly aspects in myself I’d rather not have seen, but I did learn a lot about myself and how to handle future scenarios.

      I find the best way is to find a way to really talk about it with the peer, on one on. If others are having similiar issues encourage them to do the same.

      This post may help. This is based on a real issue I dealt with more recently that turned out much better. I think many struggle with this problem, since this has been my most popular post of all time. In fact, over 10K people viewed it on the first day 😉 Apparently we need to talk more about this topic in the workplace.


      Thank you for expanding the conversation.

    • Thanks Karin – I think that sometimes especially when joining new teams, it is important to understand the existing dynamics of the relationships at play. I think sometimes personal relationships among team members can sabotage the teamwork overall.

      This might be a fun topic to explore, the different roles of team members and how to find your place in the team. Much like the different roles of a dysfunctional family Hero, Scapegoat, Caretaker, Lost Child, Mascot, Mastermind. *I apologize if I am going too far off topic, but I think that a deeper look into the relationships on the team and common roles members and leaders take on, can help members and leaders understand how to avoid common pitfalls on sabotaging teamwork.


    • Shawn,

      I thought your suggestion was fantastic! Before I write, I usually go out and see what others are saying on the subject. I found one system that is so comprehensive that I was really impressed. It’s called Belbin’s team roles. Does anyone have any experience with this? http://www.belbin.com/rte.asp?id=396

      What I like about the model is that it’s research-based, includes assessments, and then has the positive and potentially harmful behaviors for each role.

      I’ve contacted them to learn more. Turns out they’re in MD, so I’m thinking of a visit.

    • Awesome!! I can’t wait to hear about it. I will also check out the website. Thanks for the info 🙂

  3. Karin- lovely points and inspiring too. May be I would start with the fuzzy vision. In absence of vision employees go la all direction dissipating their efforts.
    I would highlight too the self-organizing aspect of a good leader. Team members realize who is the most qualified member to handle a task.

    Knowing what not to do such as wasting meetings’ time is a great point. Using time fruitfully and creative ideas are the most propelling advantages over competition.

    • Ali, Thank you as always for your comments. Yes! I did leave out the encouraging self-organizing. That’s a perfect #6…. if a leader is over-leading the team becomes overly dependent on the leader rather than one another.

  4. Any high performing team needs a foundation of trust and transparency. I have also seen teams fail when members feel they are being judged or not really valued. So I love Bill’s idea of shout-outs as well as taking time to make sure everyone feels they are contributing in a meaningful way.

    In terms of transparency, it is so important to share complete information with everyone on the team. Recently I saw the breakdown of the team because managers weren’t openly releasing all the data that the rest of the team needed. People were left in the dark and confused.

    Thanks Karin for some great insights into team success!

    • Terri, GREAT! Now we are up to 7. I have seen that break down too. If a leader “trusts” or shares with some team members more than others it can really cause unnecessary friction. Game on. Who has #8?

  5. Great post as usual!

    In my former occupation, I found that inconsistency in policy created unneeded tension within the team. When team members are not sure what is expected of them due to upper management’s lack of consistency, it wreaks havoc with morale and performance!

  6. A leadership behavior that sabotages team development is inauthenticity.

    The leader is always being watched.

    At times the leader acts as if they have all the answers. They’re perfect. Robotic like.

    This stifles growth because everyone on the team believes they need to be perfect. So, everyone’s afraid to step out and take a chance on a new idea.

    p.s. Pleasure speaking today Karin. Go make a dent.

    • Steve, Great to talk with you as well…. I’m planning on making a BIG dent… and I know you are as well.

      As you know I’m big on recognizing our “imperfections.” Hmmmm… I think I read a book about that somewhere 😉


  7. The best way to engage a team is to always focus on the higher purpose, the higher goal being pursued. This helps remove the politics and the individualism and determine the best ways to collaborate toward success. Great points, Karin, and advice!


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