0 comments on “Six Ways to Cure the Dysfunctional Team Blues”

Six Ways to Cure the Dysfunctional Team Blues

The CEO is frustrated! She is the CEO of a major health care organization and, like many other organization leaders, believes in teams. She has project teams, functional teams, cross-functional teams, process improvement teams, etc. A few of those teams work very well and others not so well. She wishes she could clone the leaders of her good teams and rid herself of the others. That so many of her teams are mediocre really bugs her! She’s got the dysfunctional team blues.

She is not alone. Her problem is well documented. “75% of Cross-Functional Teams Are Dysfunctional” is the title of a June 2015 Harvard Business Review article by Benham Tabrizi. A 2013 University of Phoenix national survey found that 95 percent of those who have ever worked on a team say teams serve an important function in the workplace, but 75 percent would prefer to not work on teams because they are so often problematic. Teams are seen as important and a problem that needs a solution.

If you followed my past articles, you may have noticed a consistent emphasis on system thinking and here it is again. Teams are small human systems whose behavior cannot be predicted by the intentions and desires of it individual members. They are synergetic in ways that can be positive where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts or negative where the whole is lessthan the sum of its parts. The latter describes dysfunctional teams. Want to move your dysfunctional teams to positive synergy? After all, teams are the fundamental unit of organizations. Here are sixSS useful tactics for improving team performance:

Utilize a systems perspective. A team is a human system whose behavior is the product of its members’ behavior. However, the behavior of a team’s membership is most often derived from the norms of the team rather than from their individual desires and intentions. A system is doing what it is doing only because each member is doing what they are doing. Team members who are being silent to avoid contributing to the team’s problems, are contributing to the problems by virtue of their not doing anything constructive just like those who are being actively not helpful. No single person is responsible for a team’s success or failure. Finger-pointing and fault-finding at individuals simply exacerbate the team’s problems. For more on human systems go check out The Power and The Problem of Organization Development.

Create norms that support a sense of safety. A major contributor to ineffective teams is the lack of anyone willing to address the team’s ineffectiveness while the team is face-to-face. Speaking to the problem is perceived as too risky or futile. Eliminate that perception through ensuring that each member (particularly, the team’s leader) consistently is interested in, curious about, and appreciative of what other members are saying. People often consider silence as consent. Silence more often signals that speaking up is perceived as not safe or is fruitless. Some fear that such a norm will lead to interminable conversations. Move to decision-making when little new information is forthcoming, conversation has become repetitive, or the topic has wandered off course. In the safe group, members will speak when any of those three conditions may have presented themselves. Please notice that being interested, curious, and appreciative need never indicate agreement.

Use Basic Facilitation. Moderate the pace and focus of the team’s interactions. Facilitating the pace of interactions involves minimizing members interrupting each other. Interruptions in case of conflicts between team members tend to escalate the conflict. In such cases, interruptions should be eliminated altogether. Moderating the team’s focus involves helping the team stick to a single topic at a time. Discussion of on topic can easily generate other topics while allowing none to be concluded unless managed. Topics that are ancillary to the agenda of the team meeting should be tabled for a later meeting.

Make consensus work. I’ve ready mentioned attempts at consensus becoming futile exercises in unanimity. That is avoided whenever a reasonable percentage of the team is leaning toward a particular decision and everyone feels heard, and those who do not agree are asked if they are willing to support they proposed decision even though they do not fully agree with it. I’m often asked what if they refuse to support the idea? In my forty years doing this work that has never happened

Manage Egos. Our egos have the goal of maintaining our sense of self-esteem and identity. When we perceive some threat to that maintenance, those goals now driven by the emotions of fear and anger can overwhelm our behavior as if our lives depended on them. In such cases our ego-driven behavior will be contrary to whatever team goals may be at hand. Emotional insistence on being right (i.e., not wrong), emotional attacks on other team members, and avoidance of responsibility are typically ego-driven behaviors. The admonition to “leave egos at the door” is fruitless. Here are two tactics which can counteract ego-driven behavior when it is disrupting movement toward team goals. One, allow the person in question to share his/her point of view with little interruption until the load of emotion has been depleted. Two, assure that s/he feels heard. Feeling of being heard is an enormous ego-boost for many of us. Of course, there is more that can be understood about egos and their management. Stay tuned to my next article.

Establish feedback mechanisms. There is much verbal emphasis on teams and teamwork. Rarely are there significant feedback and rewards for team-based performance, certainly not as compared to other performance. Most organizations monitor their production, sales, and equipment performance on a weekly if not daily basis. How often have you seem organizations monitor team performance? Human systems are guided by whatever feedback systems dominate others. Teams are clearly losers in the comparison. Likewise, organizations offer few individual rewards for being on a good team. And, there are no penalties for being on a poor team. Many organizations provide a great deal of training, but team-leader skills training is typically missing beyond Bruce Tuckman’s “forming, storming, norming, and performing,” but no instruction about how to navigate the first three stages to get to performing. In summary, these feedback inequities tell employees that teams are not that important and carry more weight than statements to the contrary.


These six tactics will help you move toward more productive and engaging teams. Still there is much more to learn about creating great teams and organizations. For more go to checkout my new online program titled “Creating Great teams and Organizations Intensive” currently under development for a Fall start. If you want to find out more sign-up for its pilot offering at a significant discount!

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO, Center for Human Systems

Michael is an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds ofMichaelpeople and organizations. He is the author of The Infinite Organizationand Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein). His next book, Creating Great Teams and Organizations, is in final manuscript form and almost ready for publishing. Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he founded the Center for Human Systems and is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Dr. Broom is available for

  • Executive coaching for organizational leaders,
  • Coaching in organization development for practitioners
  • Consulting for organizational excellence!

Contact him at

Center for Human Systems

1 comment on “The Why, What, & How of Organization Development”

The Why, What, & How of Organization Development

Once again, at a major organization development conference, I heard OD practitioners bemoan how hard it is to tell potential clients (and family and friends) what they do and how they do it. As usual, I refer them to a definition of organization development I published several months ago. Today, I decided that it was time to totally restructure that definition.

Much of my thinking about this restructuring stems from the work of Bob Marshak and Gervase Bushe and their work on “dialogic OD.” They propose that OD needs a new “generative image” that shifts away from the problem-solving, change-orientation of the past which rarely addressed “change” to what. Hence, they propose “creating great teams and organizations” as a more useful and powerful image. I am following in the footsteps of Bob, an old friend, and Gervase, a new friend. Starting with our purpose (why); then, our goal (what), and concluding with how; here we go!

Organization Development:

Creating highly productive, engaging, and sustainable teams and organizations through…

Strengthening the human systems that determine the effectiveness of all other organizational systems by…

Using the collaborative and consensual processes of applied behavioral science with leaders and their groups.

WHY: Creating Highly Productive, Engaging, and Sustainable Teams and Organizations
My old definition focused on the root-cause problem-solving perspective of OD, while still important, focuses on what we wish to leave behind rather than where we want to go. As often as not, my new clients start from “I hope you fix this awful situation and those awful employees” and the negative energy embodied there. In response, I ask, “if all those problems went away, what would you and your organization be able to accomplish?” As that conversation unfolds and a vision for their organization emerges, I watch my client’s energy pick up and blossom into excitement. We have switched the focus from the problem to where they want to go—their own generative image!

My job in these conversations is to stimulate a sense of possibility while getting a sense of the distance we must travel to get there. I do this through identifying and shifting dysfunctional belief systems, instilling root-cause systems thinking, emphasizing the development of support, and offering empowerment. By the time we are done, the energy of excitement is front and center. So much more appealing and productive than the energy stimulated by the goal of pain relief alone.

WHAT: Strengthening the Human Systems that Determine the Effectiveness of All Other Organizational Systems

This area makes organization development more potent than any other change management technology. All organizations have been developed, are run, and maintained by some set of human systems. As much as an organization may attend to their mechanic, electronic, and financial systems, they are all dependent upon the organization’s human systems.

And, like all systems, they are synergic in the sense that their behavior cannot be predicted by the sum of the intentions and desires of their individual members. Put a bunch of bright, knowledgeable, and friendly individuals together. There is a no initial way of knowing if their synergy will be negative as they waste and energy time kvetching, power struggling, or other non-productive behavior. Or, if their synergy will be positive as they gel into a high-performing team that invents the next great breakthrough. Without a focus and an understanding of human systems, creating effective teams will continue to be the mystery in many organizations. It is the rare organization that doesn’t focus its feedback and accountability structures on individuals rather than the more important human systems. They do this in spite of their emphasis on being team-based.

As human systems become more effective so will their individual members and the organization. Working with human systems is the special skill the organization development practitioners have to solve problems at the roots and create great teams and organizations.

HOW: Using the Collaborative and Consensual Processes of Applied Behavioral Science with Leaders and Their Groups
OD practitioners accomplish these goals in two fundamental ways:

  1. We coach organizational leaders to increase their ability to see their human systems, understand their impact on them, and to manage their behavior to optimize that impact.
  2. We facilitate organizational leaders and their teams to collaboration and consensus to create alignment and establish the effective use of differences to accomplish team and organizational goals.

Those are two sets of skills effective practitioners must have. Describing those skills, however, is well beyond the scope of this article. For more about those, check out the Dragon Principles Intensive at It will help you both understand and build immediately useful skill in…

  • The eight Dragon Principles that represent the most powerful technology for managing change in human systems from yourself to groups to organizations to communities. I describe these principles briefly in my article “It Takes a Dragon” at
  • The six Core Interventions will help you navigate even the most difficult projects. I will describe them in my next article in a couple of weeks.

To enhance your skills with creating great teams and organizations check out the Dragon Principles Intensive. It is a workshop of twelve full days spread over ten months. It offers immediately useful skill with the eight Dragon Principles and the six Core Interventions. We start in San Francisco on October 12 and 13 and in the Washington D.C. area on October 19 and 20! Go to for details and to apply. We keep groups small, so put in your application now! Build your skills and change your life!

Also, Jumpvine, Inc, workforce optimization company is sponsoring a workshop on “Creating Positive Change in Organizations” that I will lead on September 15 in the Atlanta area. For more and to sign-up go to

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO, Center for Human Systems


Michael is an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations. He is the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he founded the Center for Human Systems and is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Contact Dr. Broom for coaching and consulting for your organization!

Center for Human Systems ~

0 comments on “It Takes Dragons”

It Takes Dragons

People ask me why I use a rather fierce looking dragon as my Center for Human Systems’ logo.

Dragons are known throughout the world in all climates, cultures, and eras. There are dragons with horns, claws, breath of fire, great size (some small), wondrous wings (some wing-less), and marvelous colors. These serpentine creatures forever populate our myths, legends, novels, and movies. Dragons are strong, fierce, powerful, and persuasive. They are creatures of magic, power, and beyond-normal insights. In Western cultures the magic and power of dragons is destructive; they are to be eliminated. In other cultures, dragons are positive symbols: Chinese dragons are symbols of good fortune. In the Aztec, Olmec, Mayan world, their dragon—Quetzalcoatl—symbolizes sustenance and re-birth. In the old Slavic world, some dragons—Zmaj—were friends of humans while others—Azdaja—were friends of witches and such. When they fight, great storms occur.
Dragons are creations of the human psyche representing the passion, fierceness, magical potentials, and depth of insight that is now mostly hidden from human kind. As Western rationality and civilization ascended over the centuries and around the globe, we repressed those potentials. Unfortunately, as we deny our passions, our fierceness, and our magicality, we also deny ourselves the power and insights needed to make real the possibility of creating teams and organizations, families and communities, even humankind to be as healthy, productive, and engaging as we want them to be.

In these modern times, our scientific method would have us be sensible people who do not accept dragons or magic or fairies or spirits or sprites or witches or wizards or anything we cannot see, measure, manage, and control. In the place of dragons, science and technology have given us the wonders of automobiles, airplanes, skyscrapers, computers, the World Wide Web (chockful of dragons itself), and cell phones. Caught up in their thrall, we depend more and more on rationality and technology. We have put aside the part of ourselves that loves wholeheartedly, that can make castles from cardboard boxes, and that have the insight and discipline to create healthy, productive, and engaging organizations–organizations where people love to go to work and do whatever it takes to make them successful. Those things we can do if we reclaim dragons—as magic, power, and possibility.

When I live as the dragon I am, I end the power struggles we create when our egos make it important that we never be losers. I learn and can help others to learn from our differences rather than work so hard to convince others that I am right and not wrong. The dragon I am loves fully with total focus, consummate passion, and direct action. I am irresistible and in wonder.

Only the dragon I am listens with compassion. I have the insight to see hostility and fear to be signals of pain needing healing. Only the dragons we are turn dysfunctional groups into synergic teams appreciative of each member’s good heart, good intentions, and useful contributions. Only the dragons we are can see the systemic issues that create cultures of blame and dysfunction. We can discover the levers that will most bring everyone to full alignment and the organization to full productivity and success. The dragon I am sees resistance to our efforts as important information we need to fine-tune those efforts and create new partners.

A dragon is the symbol of the Center for Human Systems. The dragon in us manifests through eight essential and insightful disciplines that enable us to be dragon-wise and dragon-strong as we create change within ourselves, with others, with groups, and with organizations. We call those disciplines Dragon Principles.

The Eight Dragon Principles

  1. Conscious Use of Self: Where It Change Needs to Start

We behave mostly on automatic without the need for much thought. When wanting to create change, however, our automatic tendencies often do not have the impacts that will be useful. Consciously and deliberately choosing our behavior, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs to create the changes we desire requires dragon-wisdom. Such Conscious Use of Self is the foundational discipline for creating the changes we desire.

  1. Human Systems Thinking: The Power of Organization Development

Understanding and operating from the premise that systems behave in whatever way they are behaving because every component of that system is behaving the way that they are. This gives us opportunity to manage change at every moment. It also provides the foundation for sustainable, systemic behavior change. As we are soaked in the Western socialization of individualism, dragon-wisdom is required to consistently think and operate in terms of human systems rather than individuals.

  1. Sound and Current Data: So Obvious, So Important, So Often Missing

Our assumptions based on our lifes’ experiences get us through our days with little need to check them. However, if the changes you seek are not forthcoming, it’s time to see if your assumptions are in tune with what is really happening. The biggest assumption that can hamper our change effort is the assumption that they are Sound and Current Data when they are not. That our assumptions may be correct 85+% of the time is enormously seductive requiring dragon-wisdom to notice and dragon-strength to resist.

  1. Personal and System Feedback: Are you on target or off?

Feedback allows us to evaluate how well the impact of our behavior is congruent with our intentions. The more we can fine-tune our behavior so that our impact will be in sync with our intentions the greater will be our effectiveness as managers of change. Easy to understand, yet difficult to apply since feedback has a bad reputation. What’s your first reaction when someone says to you, “Can I give you some feedback?” And, we don’t see systemic feedback at all since we don’t see human systems. You as dragon is needed.

  1. Infinite Power Orientation: The Heart and Soul of Organization Development

Most people see the win/lose power struggles among people and their differences as an inevitable, wasteful, and unpleasant part of human nature. We know to avoid them by shaping ourselves to conform to the norms we see; thus, destroying whatever unique value we might have brought. Shifting such a finite, control-oriented view of power to one that sees power as infinite and as energy rather than control is crucial to successful change creation. What better purpose for both dragon-wisdom and strength!

  1. Learning from Differences: The Hardest, When It’s Important to Be Right

We all like to learn except when we have attached our egos to being right. We must be dragon-strong to use such ego-laden differences to accrue knowledge and skill rather than as the source of contention and hostility. Then, we can help others do the same. This is the source of dragon-wisdom.

  1. Empowerment: The Value-Add of Organization Development

Empowerment is about supporting others to self-discover their ability to make conscious choices and recognize their inherent excellence toward invoking their ability to achieve their personal and systemic goals.

  1. Support Systems: The Pay-Off of Organization Development

There is nothing of any significance that we have accomplished or can accomplish by ourselves. We need support systems. In fact, we need two kinds of support systems: a personal support system to help us maintain our conscious use of self and to help us have developed support for our change goals to critical mass. When the latter occurs, the change is virtually at hand! But, we often equate needing support with weakness and disadvantage. Dragon-strength is needed to continually focus on building support systems for ourselves and our goals to critical mass–the herald of success.

Creating change in teams, organizations, and other human systems is often an uphill battle against the norms and cultures whose task is to maintain the status quo. Armed with the eight Dragon Principles that battle is won. Be the dragon you are to create the changes you’d like to see!

Get the skills and wisdom of the Dragon Principles for yourself! Take the Dragon Principles Intensive! Go to to apply!

Want to sharpen and deepen your organization development skills? Sign-up for the Master Classes in Organization Development jointly sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay OD Network and the Center for Human Systems.


Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., CEO, Center for Human Systems

About Michael F. Broom. I’m an organizational psychologist with 40 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations including Microsoft, Google, and Genentech. I’m the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game (with Donald Klein), and the upcoming The Dragon Principles. After 25 years at Johns Hopkins, I founded the Center for Human Systems. I am a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

The Center for Human Systems ~ ~