The perfect team: 8 ways to screw it up

You’ve probably read many articles about teamwork values in your life; little Top5 or Top10 lists and profiles of the ideal team player. Those explain what it takes to be good as a team member and give examples of rules that apply to successful work environments. Moreover, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of companies out there that share their core values and define what the perfect team means to them.

Unfortunately, for every rule that makes you a better “Employee of the month” candidate, there’s at least one tricky situation to ruin your chances! Are you curious to see if this applies to you, too? Read on!

Whether you’re a team leader or just a member, there’s an abundance of ways you can totally ruin the team spirit. Some ways are simple and require minimal effort, while other ways are not that obvious and may require a lot more to screw things up. Either accidental or on purpose, making the wrong move and becoming the black sheep of the team starts from the individual; it all comes down to character, nurture and personal values.

1. Good speakers, bad listeners

How many times have you participated in a casual conversation, where one person was talking so much, that everyone else couldn’t catch a moment to utter a word? How many times were you in a meeting where everyone was sitting there in total silence, listening to some dude who simply wouldn’t shut up? What if you were that annoying guy? Well, maybe you are that guy.

Surprisingly, being a good listener is a rare quality. Some people are so consumed in talking (more like blabbering) and expressing thoughts, fears and opinions, that they forget to listen. Even when they try to, they tend to fail, by interrupting others in order to offer an additional argument. They might think that they encourage a productive conversation, but how productive can it be when you don’t let another person finish their effing sentence?

Of course, there are also the shy ones, who don’t actually say much, but that doesn’t mean that they are good at listening. That might prove to be worse, even insulting, as it insinuates indifference and refusal to open a line of communication.

2. Sharing is caring, you selfish monster!

One of the key reasons we work within a team is to exchange information. We help each other do what needs to be done, by providing valuable bits of knowledge. If, for whatever reason, we fail to do so, the whole team might end up failing. You may have experienced it. Remember that little detail you knew about, but you forgot to share with the rest of the team? Well, it didn’t seem important to you at that time, but guess what, it was! Someone else could have really benefited from it and maybe the launch of that big product you were all working on, wouldn’t be delayed by a week. Sounds familiar?

Think of that information exchange as a chain with multiple links. Break just one link and the whole chain is not one piece anymore. The same thing happens with teams and information sharing. Every team establishes a flow of information, internal and external. Any gap in this flow disconnects the workflow streams. Multiple people work on dependent things at the same time. Different information about their work would create discrepancies in the final product, confusion and, eventually, distress and pointing fingers.

It’s really a shame, because nowadays we have a ton of communication channels for professional use; phone calls, emails, text chat, video chat, conference calls, meetings, water-cooler conversations, just to name a few. It would be awful if all these went to waste, because you couldn’t be bothered using them, right?

3. The art of being open-minded & reasonable

Like I said, sometimes within a team many people talk and fewer listen. The problem is that some of the ones who listen, do not really listen with an open mind. Think back to the time when you were requested to complete a task, but you expressed your concerns to your superior. You even provided a few valid arguments why that task wasn’t a good idea at all. You thought your arguments could be the start of a productive conversation, but instead all you got was:

It doesn’t matter. That’s how it is.

or, even worse:

Do what I said, please.

with a stern voice tone. Terrible, right? Well, not all of us are blessed with easy-going, considerate colleagues and managers.

Speaking from experience, I had to deal with a couple of those guys (well, both were women) whose responses were structured in a similar fashion. I was reporting to them at those 2 different occasions and whenever I tried to prove that we were moving towards the wrong direction, doing something insanely unproductive (yes in fact we were), their reaction was:

It is what it is. Now make sure it’s done.

No counter-arguments, no further discussion. As for the result of that project? It crashed and burned! A few resignations followed shortly after that. It’s an extreme case, I know. But, as you can see, it happens and many can relate.

4. Leaders have feelings, too

Attention all Friends fans — remember when Chandler Bing got promoted and went from being the funny workmate to the mocked boss? Poor Chandler, he hadn’t seen that one coming. Suddenly, he lost all his work buddies and everyone was making fun of him behind his back.

So, contrary to what I just mentioned above, there are actually managers who care about their subordinates’ opinions and encourage bidirectional communication within their team. However, in some teams there is that one annoying, dismissive guy who resents the chain of command and poisons the entire team with negativity, disrespect and uncomfortable jokes about the management. That guy isn’t usually productive; how can he be, when he spends most of his time gossiping his superiors? It is the most uncomfortable type of colleague and the whole situation is too delicate to handle. Since this one link in the team chain is weak, then like I said, the entire chain falls apart. Depending on the personality of the weak link, the blow can vary from mild to hardcore.

5. Taking responsibility vs. putting the blame

We’ve all been there; things don’t go towards the desired direction and mistakes happen. Sometimes those mistakes are serious and cause money loss to the business. It’s easier to start pointing fingers and denying responsibility than owning your mistakes and coming clean. Hiding behind your finger and saying “It wasn’t me”, when it actually was you too, is a common reaction to failure. You can imagine how much tension this kind of failure brings to the team. Would you easily forgive that guy who wrongfully accused you of a failure? I don’t think so.

6. Common vs. personal goals

Teamwork is a beautiful word. It refers to the process of working collaboratively with a group of people in order to achieve a common goal. We’ve been used to belonging to teams for thousands of years; there have been times in history when our survival depended on teamwork. The same thing applies now to businesses. In order for a business to reach success, many people, its employees, need to work together in order to achieve this goal. However, when the topic comes to individuals, things get complicated. Everyone seems to have personal interests and goals, which is a good thing generally speaking. Within a business environment, though, for certain people personal interests take priority over common goals and working in groups suddenly doesn’t serve these personal goals.
 The result? A disconnected team, an inconsistent and definitely not universal effort and a wrong product.
 And the odds that this could lead to success? I would say, slim.

7. “Self-improvement? But I’m already perfect!”

Every team should always be on the lookout for how it can better achieve its goals. When we graduated we all thought well, this is it, no more learning, but a university degree simply doesn’t cut it anymore. There are many factors that require professionals to seek ways to educate themselves constantly. However, there are professionals who are resistant to change; they just find it uncomfortable and time-consuming, so they are not willing to try learn a few more tricks. It’s those guys who say:

We never needed that sort of thing before, we can work without it.”


“I don’t see why we should go into all that trouble.

It’s not only the hard skills that you learn through suitable education, but also the soft skills and those ones are even harder to learn and therefore, less people are willing to improve. But others are actually willing to go the extra mile and learn something new, so this creates teams of uneven skills and expertise and generates massive differences in performance. A half-productive team can only deliver half-successful results.

8. Integrity and how to stain it

It’s difficult to define professional integrity in accurate terms, but most people believe that it has to do with engaging with fundamental values and ethical rules of a wider team, the business. To be more specific, it means that the members of that team resist pressure to compromise those values and rules, a pressure that comes from external or internal sources.

However, some teammates break the rules, dismiss any established codes of conduct and intentionally go rogue. The results of such behaviors may vary from simple practical issues like stealing paper from the printer, to more serious ones like harassment or fraud. Having a person like that in the team is most definitely catastrophic. That’s why large companies have zero-tolerance policies, but when you’re a person like the one I just described, you’re probably more likely to simply not care.

Aaaand the Worst Employee Of The Month award goes to… hopefully not you!

Wrapping up

There are a million ways to ruin teamwork and productivity. Whether it’s just people not getting along or a single egomaniac who thrives in chaos, the results can be devastating not only for the whole team, but also for the entire business. Nonetheless, it’s a reality many professionals can relate to. One person is enough to make this kind of mess, my friend! It could happen to me, it could happen to you, too. Just do me a favor, please — make sure you are not that damn person.

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