Core traits of a dysfunctional team

As a curriculum developer for team dynamics and team building training programs, I have always wanted to find out what are some core traits in a team that will be distinctly described as dysfunctional. In the several research papers, I read and the books that I referenced I was able to narrow down 2 core traits that will sow the seeds of dysfunctional behavior that will grow unabated in a team.

  • Lack of leadership stemming from the leaders managing teams, where leaders condone cover ups 
  • The team, typically lacks discipline

In this post I would like to share with you the book that was written by Jim Fredrick, author, journalist, and the Managing Editor of renowned Times magazine. His book, Black Hearts: One Platoon’s descent into Madness, details the very core destructive behavior that I will equate with dysfunctional Teams.

Blackhearts: One platoons descent into Madness

Jim Frederick, made an investigative journey to find out what possessed 4 American soldiers from the 1st Battalion,  502nd Infantry regiment, Bravo company 1st platoon, to murder and rape a family of 4 in Iraq. 4 American soldiers were implicated for murdering the parents, 6 year old girl and triple rape of the 14 year old sister, who was murdered subsequently on March 12 2006. Specifically, James Baker, Paul Cortez, Steven Green, and Jesse Spielman, who were responsible for this crime and were subsequently investigated, tried and sentenced.  Their act will go down in history as, one of the most vile, nefarious crime ever committed by soldiers from the US armed forces.

This book detailed the soldiers training and subsequent deployment in Iraq on Sep 29 2005. Imagine, within a span of just 6 months, soldiers who were sent to the war coined as Operations Iraq Liberation (O.I.L), descended into a crime that would make the stomach churn and turn in disgust as you read the pages and transcripts on what the 4 soldiers did. I read this book with great interest and sadness as it also showcased typical traits that I will coin as dysfunctional behaviours in a team. It starts with the teams and radiates upwards to leaders who led such teams.

The soldiers on initial deployment to Iraq were lead by Sgt Yribe, and here was one act on his part that contributed one critical trait that I would associate with dysfunctional teams. In a check point that was manned by Sgt Yribe and his men, in particular the very same soldiers who perpetrated this crime, Sgt Yribe, missed fired his weapon that killed an Iraqi women. Sgt Yribe and his men, covered up this act and reconstructed this scene reporting, the vehicle the women was traveling on was speeding against the check point firing at the soldiers. Sgt Yribe even planted a AK47 weapon to cover up this crime when it was reported to the superior officers. Here is trait no. 1, leaders must not set the wrong example of lying.

Sgt Yribe condoned cover ups. In his actions he also showed his team of soldiers that rules can be broken and you can get away with it. The 2nd trait that I would equate with a dysfunctional teams is “Indiscipline”. The 1st Platoon, Bravo company soldiers, had a reputation for drinking, taking drugs and not following SOP’s prescribed. Walk through the work station of your employees, do look at their workstations and this will give you a clue. Are they tardy, are they on time, do your team members follow the rules.

The book by Jim Frederick, detailed when 2 such traits breeds uncheck it becomes an accepted norm. Dysfunctional teams personifies unethical behaviour. One of which is lying, telling half truths and reporting maliciously with inaccurate data or details. They are also indisciplined. Do share with me your experience with dysfunctional teams, I would like to hear from you too.

Jim, did justice to the victims in the book he wrote that documented this crime, however I am not able to accept the punishments meted out. The 3 soldiers were sentenced to life imprisonment and they are eligible for parole in 10 years and Green, who was tried in the civilian court was sentenced to life sentence without parole. Here is justice for you … decide.