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  • Writer's pictureChad Haldeman

Team Health: Signs and Symptoms of Poor Team Health (Plus How To Recover)

Updated: Jun 3

At The Resultants, we understand the importance of a strong leadership team. The health of a company’s leadership team is a huge determining factor in the health of the entire company. “The fish rots from the head down,” as they say.

That’s why one of the top things we focus on with our clients is recognizing the symptoms of poor team health and helping to implement changes to bring about improvement.

Read on to learn what strong team health looks like, common symptoms of poor team health, and simple steps you can take to start improving your leadership team’s health.

Characteristics of Strong Team Health

The primary reference point we use to determine team health is the methodology laid out in the book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Leoncioni. This gives us five very specific areas to examine.  

For example, one of the characteristics Leoncioni highlights is conflict. Healthy, productive conflict is vital for a team to be robustly healthy. A great leadership team is one that can argue like brothers and sisters, but is ultimately guided by a shared purpose. Even if there’s disagreement among the team members, they come together around each decision so they can align and move forward.

A strong leadership team is one that acts for the greater good: they think about what’s best for the organization, not what’s best for themselves as individuals or the functional teams they lead. They have the ability and willingness to think and act strategically. 

That’s a strong and healthy team.

Common Symptoms of Poor Team Health (Plus Recovery Action Points)

Wrong People, Wrong Seats

One of the biggest hurdles to strong team health is having either the wrong people on the team or people in the wrong seats. It doesn’t matter what strategies you use if, at the leadership level, you have the wrong people (they don’t align with your company’s core values) or people in the wrong seats (example: having a “doer” in a leadership position — they’re mis-cast). 

In a small business, we’re often moving fast and with constrained capacity, which can lead us to put people on a leadership team who aren’t necessarily cut out for it. So the first thing you need to do is make sure you have the right people in the right seats.

Action point: Assess your leadership team and be honest with yourself: Are the people on your team cut out for leadership (or are they better suited to a “doer” role)? Do all team members lead in a way that aligns with your company values? If your answer to these questions is “yes,” great! If not, you may have to make some tough decisions. A Business Operating System (BOS) or HR person can give you some tools to help you try to identify changes that should be made. 

Disengaged Leaders 

If your team members are disengaged during leadership team meetings, that’s a problem. When you have a strong leader who dominates the meeting with a table full of “head bobbers” nodding along in agreement (or worse, staring at their phones), no one is engaged. The “benevolent dictator” is running the show. 

Action point: Find some activities your team can engage in to get to know one another. Often, getting an understanding of who someone is, where and how they grew up, what they love to do...that gives us context as to who they are as people and fosters engagement.

Silo Behavior

Another common challenge to building a healthy team is a leader who is unable or unwilling to focus on the bigger picture. This leads to silo behavior where leaders create their own little departmental “kingdoms.” There’s no coming together for the greater good — it’s sales vs operations vs finance, etc.

This is a very common issue, especially in larger companies where there’s a lot of autonomy. Autonomy is good, but if there’s a weak leader or one who manages by consensus (which I think is dysfunctional), you’ll often see these different kingdoms.

I once had a manager, red in the face, passionately tell me, “Chad, it’s my job to advocate for the people in my department! I’m their defender, I’m their advocate!” They thought shifting their loyalty to the leadership team meant they were being disloyal to their department. 

A healthy leader understands that as a leadership team member, their responsibility is to the organization — and sometimes that doesn’t benefit their team in the short term. 

But focusing your loyalty on the company first, and on your functional team second, doesn’t mean “selling them down the river.” It means understanding that if we serve the needs of the greater good, ultimately everybody’s going to benefit and prosper. 

Action point: Sometimes the issue here is, like I mentioned previously, the wrong person in the wrong seat. And honestly, there’s no easy fix: proceed carefully. Using a BOS and having a well-defined strategy and a culture that incorporates specific values, a stated purpose, and a long-term vision will certainly help. These things allow you as a leader to have tough conversations and get commitment from team members to align around those values and vision.

Midwestern “Nice” (a.k.a., Conflict Avoidance)

Strong leaders may not love conflict, but we appreciate what it can do for us. We can share ideas, have a healthy debate…then, once our voices are heard, we can align around whatever decision is made. 

One of the innate challenges in our part of the country (the upper Midwest) is the Midwestern “Nice” mentality: conflict is a bad word. In the land of Midwestern “Nice,” if people sit in the weeds because they’re conflict averse, that’s allowed to fester. And it does no one any favors.

But conflict is a foundational element of a strong leadership team: you have to be willing to wade into conflict and be uncomfortable.

I think it's a misnomer to say “I’m really comfortable with conflict.” I think there are a few people who are — one of my old bosses used to say “I love a good dustup,” and he did! — but most people who are really good at engaging in conflict are comfortable with being uncomfortable.

If you have team members who are unable to engage in conflict at all, or who engage in conflict in unhealthy ways (for example, attacking the person rather than addressing the issue), that’s clearly dysfunctional. 

Action point: A couple of tools can be helpful here. A simple one is a DISC assessment. DISC can help your team members understand the value of each person’s behavior style and how they show up in the world. It’s said that communication is 30% what we say, and 70% how we say it. Sometimes we can misinterpret things based on someone’s behavioral style, perceived level of sincerity, etc. Understanding is a way of respecting. 

Then, if you want to dig deeper, there are a couple of different conflict models (such as Thomas-Killman) related to behavioral style that may be beneficial. 

Lack of Clear Expectations

Another foundational symptom of poor team health is a lack of clear expectations. Without a foundational set of rules, expectations, goals, values, and clear roles, how do I know what I’m responsible for vs what you’re responsible for? What is the long-term plan for the company so we can align around and move towards that? 

Action point: Invest time and energy into a BOS, which will give you a simple methodology to build an organizational structure that includes your values, purpose, long-term goals, and strategies (including marketing, business development, team measurement, etc).

How To Gauge Your Team’s Health

Oftentimes, leaders don’t even realize they have a team health issue. And that’s a problem. If left to fester, poor team health will eventually be reflected in performance metrics like profit and growth velocity, 

That’s why it’s important to routinely take the temperature of your team’s health. I recommend assessing your team’s health once a year. Each year, take the time to measure, identify gaps, pick a few things you can take action around, engage the fixes, and measure again.

But how do you measure team health? There are a couple of methods I’d recommend:

First, read The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. It’s one of the seminal works in the field of organizational development, and it’s timeless. In the book, Leoncioni offers ways you can ask your team to rate themselves. (Note: While you can rate the team as a leader, be careful there, because we drink our own kool aid sometimes. My clients often tell me, “thank you for saving me from myself!”)

For a more statistical, objective measurement, you can do an employee engagement survey using Gallup’s Employee Engagement Q12 (12 Questions for Organizational Health). I’m a big believer in the Q12 as a way of measuring your employee engagement. It gives you a macro look at your overall cultural health, of which team health is a part. 

Need an Outside Perspective on Your Team’s Health?

No matter who you are as a leader — the owner, founder, president, or other leader of a company — invariably you’re going to have blind spots when it comes to the health of your leadership team. That’s where an outside perspective can be highly beneficial.

Getting an outside perspective from a business advisor like The Resultants can help you create a firm foundation for team health. We bring a fresh perspective to your team dynamics to help you identify and work through any challenges you’re facing. Using objective anecdotal data, with Leoncioni’s The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team as a reference point, we’ll offer tangible ways to improve your team health.

If you’d like to strengthen the health of your leadership team, give us a call or send us an email to set up a free consultation.


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