Understanding How Teams Get Derailed

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Identify obstacles that stand in the way of team progress

Teams can encounter numerous obstacles as they work toward their objectives. Here are some of the more common problems and examples of behaviors that characterize each of them.

Team Problems


Characteristic behaviors

Absence of team identity

  • Failure of members to feel mutually accountable to one another for the team's objectives
  • Lack of commitment and effort from team members
  • Conflict between team goals and members' personal goals
  • Poor collaboration, information sharing, and joint decision making

Difficulty making decisions

  • Rigid adherence to positions during decision making
  • Repeated arguments that fail to introduce new information

Poor communication

  • Interrupting or talking over one another among members
  • Consistent silence from some members during meetings
  • Allusions to problems but failure to formally address them
  • False consensus (everyone nods in agreement without truly agreeing)

Inability to resolve conflicts

  • Tensions and personal attacks
  • Arguments
  • Absence of support for others
  • Aggressive gestures

Lack of participation

  • Failure to complete assignments
  • Poor attendance at team meetings
  • Low energy during meetings

Lack of creativity

  • Inability to generate fresh ideas and perspectives unencumbered by prevailing wisdom or established ways of doing things
  • Unwillingness to ask questions or be curious and playful
  • Failure to turn unexpected events into opportunities


  • Unwillingness or inability to consider alternative ideas
  • Lack of critical thinking and debate over ideas
  • Overriding impulse for team agreement and unity

Ineffective leadership

  • Failure of members to contribute ideas
  • Inability to define a vision for the team
  • Failure of leader to delegate
  • Failure of leader to represent multiple constituencies

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