5 Diseases That Kill Teamwork

Published February 4, 2019

Don’t you just love teamwork? I mean, it really is a great thing. More can be accomplished. Greater heights can be reached. Bigger goals can be achieved.

“Teamwork really does make the dream work.” When the team is healthy.

But, when the team is unhealthy, it can kill teamwork. And, it usually doesn’t happen quickly. Just like it takes time to build a strong team, it is also true that it takes time to kill a team.

“Teamwork really does make the dream work.” When the team is healthy.

You probably know that well. Remember when you were in college and you had to do the dreaded group project? For most of us, we hated it and only wanted it to be over as quickly as possible. For me, there were many times when the team would only meet once, for the purpose of dividing up the work, and then we would wouldn’t meet again until the project was due.

As leaders, we must be able to assess and recognize when teams are sick. We have to be the doctors who diagnose the diseases on our teams and prescribe the antidote. It is up to us to keep teams healthy and far away from the diseases that kill them.

In my experience with many different industries, I have discovered there are five diseases that will kill teamwork. These diseases are prevalent on all kinds of teams—for-profit or non-profit, big or small, established or new.


1) Confusion

When there is a lack of clarity on a team, they will begin to make their own rules. A team that is confused will have results that miss the mark. It is vital that a team understands its purpose, the roles and responsibilities of each of its team members, the goal of the project or task, and the desired outcome of their work. When these are missing, teams will find themselves doing work that, at a minimum, doesn’t matter and at a maximum, is a complete waste of time.


2) Apathy

There must be commitment to teamwork from the top of the organization down to every member on the team. If at any point a person isn’t committed to working together, they will become a virus and infect the rest of the team. If a leader doesn’t communicate the value of working as a team despite the deficiencies that often come with it, the team will drift apart and begin to do work that leads to individual pieces that don’t quite fit together.


3) Selfishness

In any organization, there are individual goals and motivations that exist and there must be a sense of “the greater good” on every team. In other words, no individual person can view their own pay, reward, recognition or status as being more important than accomplishing the desired outcome of the group. It must be we > me, every time.

Teamwork only works when leadership supports them in both words and actions.


4) Exclusion

One of the reasons teamwork is so effective is because you get a diversity of thought, experience and skills from the people on the team. Far too often, however, teams have a dominant person or two who kill the inclusivity that’s necessary for the optimal outcome. When a person is or feels excluded from the process, their contribution will be stunted, thereby leading to a weaker result. Over time, exclusion destroys teams and causes many to just go through the motions rather than engaging and giving it their all.


5) Isolation

This one is where the rubber really hits the road for leaders. Teams that work with and for us must be supported by those in authority. Simply creating teams is not enough, we must give them the resources they need to be successful. Far too often, teams feel isolated—like they’re on their own—and that can cause teams to become frustrated and disillusioned with their work. Teamwork only works when leadership supports them in both words and actions.


How are the teams you lead? Are any of these diseases present?

If you’re not sure, this would be a great exercise to invite the team members to assess and report back on their thoughts. If you see one or more of these, now is the time to fix it.

Identify the symptoms and then attack the root of the problem and you will see your teams become stronger, more effective and more productive.

About the Author
Tim Parsons serves as lead pastor at The Journey Church outside Indianapolis, a host site for the GLS. His passion is to help people lead better—at work and at home.

Tim Parsons

Lead Pastor

The Journey Church (Indianapolis, IN)

Tim Parsons serves as lead pastor at The Journey Church outside Indianapolis. With a passion to help people lead better at work and at home, his church has been a longtime partner with us as a Premier Host for The Global Leadership Summit. He is the co-author of the new devotional for men, Equipping the Warrior and author of the soon to be released 40-day devotional on spiritual health, The Journey. You can  connect with Tim at timparsons.me.