24 Shades of Dysfunction at Work

Even workplaces that seem to be the healthiest may be dysfunctional.

But dysfunction–in any form and any degree–comes at a cost, and the first step is recognizing the problem.

Do any of these sound like your workplace? If so, you may need help getting the culture back on track. Here are 24 of the “Greatest Hits of Workplace Dysfunction” to avoid.

1. Letting personal problems overwhelm personal and team effectiveness. Life throws us all our share of curve balls, and sometimes they arrive when we’re at work. But personal distractions should be the exception, not the norm.

2. Withholding Support. The workplace should be a place where you can rely on being treated fairly and with respect. But if a significant number of workers violate the principle of mutual support, deterioration soon follows.

3. Hiding resources/information. Those who refuse to share knowledge–either by playing dumb or being evasive–are working only to better themselves, not for the good of the team.

4. Turf wars. Ideally, all co-workers get along. But in reality, it’s not uncommon for colleagues to dislike each other. Arguments, rifts and mean-spirited rivalries may follow. And in the worst cases, dislike and rivalry can develop into a full-blown office war. Issues may also arise from inappropriate behaviour on the other side of the spectrum, with office romances, especially when they go awry.

5. Taking undue credit. Those with low self-esteem need to toot their own horn and take credit for work they didn’t do. The bottom line is that they hunger for recognition, but their behavior can quickly wreck even a strong team.

6. Misrepresented roles. Low self-esteem may also lead people to misrepresent their position or title. Without the faith it takes to risk working toward a better position, they instead pretend they’ve already arrived.

7. Frequent and senseless reorganizations. Sometimes people in leadership think that constant tinkering with an organization’s structure is the way to fix issues. Unfortunately, the uncertainty inherent to frequent restructuring actually makes problems worse.

8. High turnover. Happy, fulfilled employees don’t leave unless there’s a great opportunity or a compelling personal reason. If people are departing in droves, you’ve got a problem.

9. Undeserved promotions. When those who know how to play the game can work the system to get undeserved promotions, it builds resentment and decreases respect.

10. Being careless about quality. Quality is where excellence lies. An organization that compromises on quality jeopardizes everything it does.

11. Gossiping, rumors and Bullying.  There is only one good approach to gossip, bullying: Do not allow them.

12. Favoritism and preferential treatment or bigotry and prejudice. Inequality is a quick path to discomfort and strife. Treat everyone the same way–specifically, the way you would want to be treated. Under no circumstances should bigotry be tolerated. Immediate action is the only proper response.

13. Inflexibility in procedures. If a team’s allegiance is only to procedures, its members lose out on what really matters–the process and the people that make it work.

14. Failing to take initiative. Team members require self-motivation to step up in competitive situations. Without it, lethargy becomes the norm.

15. Breaking confidentiality. Nothing is every gained by violating confidentiality. Create a workplace where everyone is honor bound to keep confidential information to themselves–starting with the leadership.

16. Low productivity. When some get away with pretending to work while in fact accomplishing very little, it subjects the entire team to stress–and resentment.

17. Confusion about goals. If team members don’t understand the distinction between what is good for them and what is good for the organization, it’s impossible to set clear goals.

18. Squandering time. A workplace where people squander time shows a lack of commitment to (and maybe even knowledge of) the mission.

19. Excessive fear of change. Change happens whether we fear or embrace it. In an unhealthy workplace, people have difficulty dealing with change.

20. Perfectionism. An organization where people chase unattainable goals often suffers from paralysis. The focus needs to move to realistic expectations.

21. Lack of diversity. if you don’t have the diversity that leads people to hold and express different opinions, you’re missing out on a huge source of insight and ideas. Nobody learns anything in an echo chamber.

22. Reinventing the wheel. When work lacks a clear purpose based in a genuine need, a sense of futility becomes the norm.

23. Undue emphasis on results. Results are good, but sometimes how you get there is more important.

24. Isolation. When team members all close themselves off from each other and retreat into their private spaces, they’re not really even a team any more.


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