50 Forms of Dysfunction in the Workplace

Every workplace has some degree of dysfunction, of course. Often the ones that are the healthiest think they’re the worst, and vice versa.

But dysfunction–in any form and any degree–comes at a cost, keeping us from effective outcomes, efficient results and successful conclusions.

At its worst, it can bring down an entire organization.

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.

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

2. Withdrawing 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 follows.

3. Hiding resources or withholding 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. Ongoing turf wars. In the ideal professional world, 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.

5. Pouting and yelling. Sometimes people engage in plain old-fashioned bad behavior. If not addressed, it can become chronic–and contagious.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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

9. 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.

10. 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.

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

12. Backbiting and backstabbing. The workplace isn’t high school. If you’re not getting along with someone, find a way to work it out. Any other response looks like–and is–immature behavior.

13. Gossiping and rumors. There is only one good approach to gossip: Do not allow it. Nothing good has ever happened from gossip and talking behind other people’s backs.

14. Favoritism and preferential treatment. Inequality is a quick path to discomfort and strife. Treat everyone the same way–specifically, the way you would want to be treated.

15. Bigotry and prejudice. Under no circumstances should bigotry be tolerated. Immediate action is the only proper response.

16. Hiring quotas. Quotas are a common practice but often not the best way to build a talented and committed diverse staff.

17. Refusing to establish procedures. Leadership that cannot initiate procedures cannot create progress.

18. 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.

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

20. Listening only to what is said and not what is meant. Superficial communication makes everything more difficult. If team members aren’t attuned to each other enough to understand subtlety in their communication, not much is going to happen.

21. 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.

22. Bullying and tyrannical behavior. Add these to the list of behaviors that should never be tolerated, no matter what the circumstances may be.

23. 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.

24. Disloyalty and undependability. People who are disloyal and undependable are detrimental to any team, company, or business. Both traits undermine the trust that is essential to a high-functioning team.

25. 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.

26. Filtering bad news. How bad news is shared says a lot about an organization. Is it held back and filtered? Treated inappropriately? Or communicated with transparency and compassion?

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

28. Mistaking abusive behavior for toughness. Abusive behavior is neither tough nor justified, under any circumstances. It is a sign of weakness and never anything more.

29. Focusing on self instead of the greater good. Unhappy people focus on themselves; those who are fulfilled focus on the team.

30. Constant alibis. In a dysfunctional workplace, people lack the security to come and go as they need, so they’re constantly citing (and even inventing) reasons why they were late or absent.

31. Failing to confront. When no one confronts the things that need to be confronted, they grow in strength.

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

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

34. Smugness and conceit. The hallmarks of people who cannot think well of themselves, these traits make for a lot of unnecessary drama in the workplace.

35. Hubris and arrogance. However great someone is, ego edges greatness out. Period.

36. Shooting the messenger. In too many workplaces, those who deliver difficult truths are not rewarded but scapegoated. It’s a telling sign when those in charge can’t distinguish the message from the messenger.

37. Excessive delegation. When delegation is about covering up the incompetence of those in charge rather than an optimum workflow, it causes more problems than it solves.

38. Undue emphasis on speed. Quality should always be at the top of the list of priorities.

39. 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.

40. Emphasizing equal results instead of equal opportunity. It’s a matter of common sense to know which of these should be most important to a team.

41. Overpromising and underperforming. This costs the team in terms of credibility and, ultimately, morale.

42. Mismanaging the dysfunction. Dysfunction calls for careful, deliberate management, not more of the same. If you feed a monster, it will come back for more.

43.Paralysis by analysis. If you don’t move, you cannot succeed.

44. Unfriendliness and hostility. Those who fail to show respect are unlikely to ever receive it.

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

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

47. Inaccessibility and unavailability. When the leadership is unavailable, it serves to make everyone distrust, discouraged and disappointed.

48. Ascribing bad motives. When team members think the worst of each other, the atmosphere is likely the reason. Does it foster collaboration and cooperation, or unhealthy forms of competition?

49. 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.

50. Paranoia and suspicion. If you cannot trust, you cannot work.

If you recognize some of these dysfunctions do what you can to make your workplace more functional.


N A T I O N A L    B E S T S E L L E R


What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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