What To Do If Your Startup Team Doesn’t Work Out

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Whether you’re launching a new business or branching out into new areas, starting up is hard to do. And it’s particularly hard when your team is not working well together.

Every now and then I’m reminded of Patrick Leoni’s great book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and how difficult it can be to make changes when your startup team is failing.

Leoni identifies 5 key areas of dysfunction in team dynamics that can hurt business development and growth.


Trust allows team members to overcome the need to appear invulnerable. They can open up, admit mistakes and discuss concerns with no fear of retaliation or attack. Meaningful, open, constructive communication can’t occur without trust.

Does your team trust in each other or are they self-protective, maybe even defensive?


Conflict here doesn’t mean tension. It is openly and honestly discussing ideas and concerns. Conflict expands knowledge and understanding through listening to and voicing different views. It’s about reaching clarity on goals and direction.

Do any members of your team just agree to avoid conflict? Is there more sniping and sarcasm than constructive debate?


Not everyone agrees with every decision. When a team member disagrees and feels they haven’t been heard, they may not buy in and really commit. Once a decision’s been made, all team members have to commit to moving in that direction to make it work for the benefit of all.

Is anyone on your team not all in? Does their agreement sound more like ‘whatever’ than ‘YES!’?


Let’s say a team learns to trust, finds clarity of vision and is committed to the process. They still need to hold themselves and other team members accountable for performance and behavior. This is particularly uncomfortable and difficult among peers.

Does anyone on your team avoid accountability? Do they make excuses for themselves? Do they let others slide?


When goals are too broadly defined it is nearly impossible to measure results until it’s almost too late. To ensure accountability, goals and results must be clear, simple, specific enough to illuminate a clear path of action, and measurable. A team that isn’t focused on results is far more likely to be working to increase either team or individual status.

Do some things never seem to get done? Are some of your team members easily distracted or more focused on their own careers and goals than those of the team?


If you answered yes to any of the questions above your business may struggle. So, how do you fix it?

Obviously each situation is different, but based on personal experience we’ve found that if you are committed to the entrepreneurial life you have to take the “rip off the Band-Aid quickly” approach. Most of us already know this, even if we’re not comfortable with the idea.

This doesn’t mean burning bridges or blowing up everything, it’s more of a Kenny Rogers “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em…” position.

Start with trying to work the hand you have. Approach your people, talk about these key areas of dysfunction. Remember to listen, as they may have insights and ideas that you don’t.

But, when it’s time to cut bait you have to cut bait. It’s always painful, it’s never fair or reasonable, and sometimes changing your team is the only option.

The entrepreneur doesn’t have the luxury a larger company has to absorb team dysfunction issues, but you’re not alone either. Get help from others: mentors, friends, colleagues, former bosses. Find someone you trust to bounce the situation off and help you prepare for the difficult task of changing your team.

➠ More on what you can do about dysfunctional teams:

The High Cost (and Best Cures) for Dysfunctional Company Culture

How To Build Your Startup Team From Scratch


Originally published at RogueNotion.com

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