6 Reasons for team dysfunction


Having worked with a range of representative sports teams for the last dozen years I can see some patterns in teams that don’t or can’t win. The good thing is that most of the elements can be altered or fixed. Even by just altering them, the outcomes will be different in line with the old adage “if you keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same results”. Here are the six main reasons teams fail, in the reverse order of their importance, but in the order that most people imagine them to be.

Number One. The wrong people are being selected. This is generally a little more complicated than most people understand and surprisingly it occurs less often than outsiders would imagine. The very nature of selected teams means that someone will miss out. Take it as read, that person will be disappointed. When selecting the right people however, consideration needs to be given to team balance and roles. As an example, you may not select the best talent but prefer to select the people who would best represent, and be in no doubt they are two different things. I have long been a fan of work ethic before genius.
Number two. Poor coaching or poor tactics. Mistakes are made at this level all the time. Coaches either overestimate the ability or the preparedness of their own players or underestimate the opposition. It is part and parcel of competition. Great coaches rarely make tactical mistakes but it still happens. Improving tactical awareness is a significant part of improving as a coach. Poor coaches are those that don’t understand that last sentence.
Number three. Team inclusion. In many teams there is a feeling that it is the players against the world, but more importantly it is the players against the administration. The players feel they are the only ones with “skin in the game.” There is a feeling that coaches, selectors and admin staff are all on the periphery of the competition as players come and go. It is hard to convince someone to put their body on the line if they feel you will still be there waving them goodbye if they don’t do it often enough. Good teams have a completely inclusive atmosphere. This is one of the reasons that leadership teams have supplanted team captains in many teams. Players are seen as one part of the puzzle. Coaches, selectors and support staff are all integral parts of the same puzzle.
Number four. No personal growth. Regardless of the sport, regardless of the competition, it is going to be harder to win this year, than it was last year. Teams develop and get better. Your team needs to be better this year than last year and to do that individual members are going to have to be better as they play their part in making the team better. If there is no personal growth of the team members, the team will inevitably stagnate. Great teams all have a growth component. This is equally true of the coaches and selectors. If they fail to improve each year what hope do the players stand?

Number five. Fear of failure. In many sports there is the understanding that each person in that team is playing for their representative future in every game. I understand that fear of failure can be a strong motivator for some people, but it rarely works for teams. Team members need to feel a sense of security about their position in the team. By this I don’t mean they will remain in the team regardless of their performance. Each team member will have a clear understanding of what is required of them. If they fulfil that requirement they should not feel their post is under threat.

Number six. No start to finish process. The final dysfunction is lack of process. Many dysfunctional teams I have seen have had new players selected and others discarded without any considered process. The first the discarded players hears about being dropped is reading a team post or online or in the news. The new player is meant to slot into the side seamlessly and without any communication other than a handshake. Representative teams, by their very nature are ultra sensitive entities. The foibles and insecurities of each of its members is compounded by joining them together. This can all be set to rest with a clear induction process, clear lines of accountability and clear end processes. Though this requires work initially it will eventually make it much easier for the coaches and selectors in the long-term and makes the team much more cohesive. Obviously this process is much easier if your team is part of a squad where the next person into the team is very much part of the existing process and understands the team nuances.

We still have sports, almost unbelievably, that have completely untrained and unskilled selectors and in some cases even coaches. Most often it is these very people who adhere to the revolving door policy of the team they govern. When I say change needs to happen at the top I am saying a fish rots from the head. Sports that still have board members as selectors or other inappropriate people in positions of influence will never create a team that wins. It will just lead to more gravy stains on team ties. It’s time to move on. They of course will continue to blame the personnel at their disposal, arrogantly disregarding their own shortcomings in the process.