Have you ever felt the ineffectiveness of a team whose member you are? Have you struggled that the team’s decisions are not the same as yours and you didn’t understand that? Maybe you felt that all the team members point in different directions.

Today I would like to share my perspective on how to address such issues. I used to work in teams like that and found some repetitive patterns. Let’s have a look!

It is not a team in most cases

It is a common practice to create a team by gathering people who do the same thing in the organization. In software development, this might be technological platform teams like QA or Frontend teams, but also teams like Product Managers, Team Leaders, and many more.

It doesn’t matter what is the reason behind the gathering, it’s important that it’s just a gathering.

But what is a team really?

A definition from Cambridge Dictionary says:

number of people or animals who do something together as a group

It’s a super simple definition but is it a piece of cake in practice? Not really…

It’s not only about gathering together several people, it’s also about doing something together. I strongly believe that people should be happy at work. It’s entrenched deeply in human nature and it’s something we should not argue about. The question is, can people be truly happy when they do things they don’t believe in? Would football team players play their best in a Champions League competition only because one team member wants to win a trophy? **So to be more precise I would say that team is a number of people that **do something together as a group because they believe that’s what they should do.

And that’s it, now when thinking about all the ‘teams’ you belong - ask yourself - do you do anything together? Do all team members believe in what the team is doing?

Dysfunctions & symptoms

Sometimes the answer might be upsetting. But believe me or not, it’s better to answer in this way rather than go around and ignore problems. Only a strongly committed team can break the walls on its way.

Sometimes the answer might be a bit more difficult to find at first glance. Then I would suggest asking some supporting questions, i.e.

  • Are there team members that are not as engaged as others?
  • Are there team members that do not take a voice in meetings?
  • Do you know what everyone else on the team does?
  • Maybe some people don’t join the meetings at all?
  • Are there any smaller subgroups in a team?

There are great books on that topic, but I want to recommend a specific one - ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patric Lencioni. It’s a must-read when it comes to discovering team issues. This one and most of the other books and articles I could recommend say that the most important dysfunction to overcome is a lack of trust. It’s where all begins. When people don’t trust each other, there is no spirit in the team, there is no relationship, no chance for honest discussion, no belief in what the team does, no commitment, and no results at the end.

How to build trust? You need to know yourself better. Try to sit down and talk about anything. Sometimes you can share a problem of yours and sometimes just tell a story of what your dog did yesterday. It doesn’t matter - just meet and talk a lot.

I strongly believe that building trust is a huge boost in collectivity but having only trust may not be enough.

In many ‘teams’ that came out from ‘people gathering’ after satisfying the initial reason for gathering (some project to do, some problem to solve, or even no reason at all) it appears that the team does nothing. It’s rather a discussion club that meets weekly / daily / quarterly to ‘discuss things’ and that’s it. This is the case where the team is missing its purpose. You should find the answers to the questions of what you do and why you do it as a team. It’s important to involve everyone, and it absolutely cannot be managed in any way. Your team should find its own path they want to follow.

Who should do that and how?

My first answer would be - the team leader… But probably when your team is struggling with trust and purpose there might also be a problem with leadership. So, if you are a leader, I hope the paragraphs above are an inspiration for a potential change 😅

But, if you are not a leader - it doesn’t really matter. One of my best colleagues very often remind me of Gandhi’s words - Be the change you want to see in the world’. Yes… I mean you can help your team overcome dysfunctions and you don’t need any special role for that. Think about the change, not what’s your role in the team.

The most difficult part is taking the first step. What could it be? It’s highly possible that you are not the only one who feels the group is ineffective. What I would recommend the most is to meet the whole team on-site multiple times and do a sort of retrospective for both trust and purpose building. I would suggest following these ‘simple’ rules during the ‘sessions’:

  • Try to build a piece of trust at the beginning, let everybody say something about them, some funny story, some memory, etc…
  • Whatever you’ll discuss - let everyone be heard. Everyone’s problems, ideas, and thoughts are equally important
  • Don’t focus too much on problems. Your goal is to build trust and find a purpose, in many cases problems might occur due to a different purpose or no feeling of any purpose at all
  • You don’t have to do any revolution on the first meeting. Treat it as a small step, but believe me or not, the team will see the value in it and you you will continue

If you want to look at some inspirations, take a look at my article about the team purpose and the book - Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.


What I shared with you at the beginning when speaking about not being a team might sound catastrophic. But I strongly believe that sometimes a sort of revolution is needed. You can start being the change immediately. Even if you won’t succeed in building trust and finding purpose trying to help the team is still the best you can do for it. Maybe it won’t succeed in the first iteration and you should try another approach. Maybe it’s a good moment to leave the team, at least you would know the answer why. However, if you will succeed your team would jump to a totally different level. It’s a level where breaking the walls is a piece of cake because each team member takes their hammer and hits bricks with a deep belief it’s the best thing to do.

New York Times article- What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Book summary - Five Dysfunctions of a Team