Addressing Disruptive Team Behavior

Ways of addressing disruptive team behavior

Teams can engage in unproductive behaviors. It can be hard for instructors to recognize these problems as it can take time for patterns of behavior to emerge. The table below lists a number of problematic behaviors with recommendations for addressing them. This list is based on the book E-Learning by Design, by William Horton.

BehaviorSymptomsRemedy/Intervention
No initiation of new membersNew team members receive a brisk introduction and are left to catch up on their own. New team members are not given specific roles. They are not included in messages or their questions are ignoredIntervene to integrate the new member into the team. Charge the team with creating a process of inducting new members. Proactively, instructors can provide this guidance at team formation, if teams are going to change regularly.
Loss of trustThe team doesn't want to work with a member anymore. The team member is ignored, shunned, or not assigned meaningful work if any at all.Privately ask team members the cause of the problem. Try to have them resolve their concerns with the team member first. If this is not successful, you may need to reconfigure teams Once trust is lost it can be hard to regain. This is more important for long-term groups that will persist over the course of a semester.
FragmentationThe team divides into cliques or factions that behavior independently. Call out the fragmentation to the group. Reassign team duties to reset the group dynamics. Assign group activities that require representation from the whole group. Reassign teams if necessary.
Debate rather than discussionCommunications resemble arguments more than conversations. Opinions are any issue are firmly set and unlikely to be changed.Point of differences in views. Remind teams that the point of teamwork is to be exposed to a variety of opinions. Assign a critical debate activity in which members are assigned the opposite side of an opinion and required to present and argue that position to the other group members. Recognize discussions in which team members show a willingness to extend their ideas.
Log-jamsTeams make little progress on critical issues. Unresolved issues may trigger emotional outbursts.Ask the team to sidestep the disruptive issue by having them brainstorm how to resolve difficult issues similar to the ones they are experiencing.
GroupthinkEverybody sincerely agrees. Discussions are short. When prompted, team members are able to give only shallow reasons for their agreement.Assign a pro and con group assignment in which the team needs to evaluate a topic from at least two perspectives. This may help them apply this skill to the work at hand.
False agreementThe team decides in a way contrary to the unexpressed view of most of the team members.Assign activities that require members to express their opinions before learning the opinions of others. Require members to debate the issue.
Chit-chatTendency to discuss issues on which everyone agrees and is knowledgeable while avoiding the difficult critical issue in which they do not agree or lack the necessary understanding.Have teams do an inventory on the critical issues and their progress on them. Check to make sure problems don't have actual barriers to resolving them.
Unclear missionThe team's activities and discussion bear little on the initial goal of the project. The scope widens and the team makes little progress toward the goal.Have the team review and restate its mission. Ask the team to evaluate whether and how past work contributes to that goal.
No leadershipThe team makes little progress, repeatedly misses deadlines, or lurches from logjam to logjam. Members exhibit poor time management.Point to the performance problems to the team. Probe the group about leadership roles and ask them to evaluate the efficiency of the group. Suggest the team shuffle roles.
Lack of creativityThe team offers no original solutions or merely replicates earlier solutions or the solutions from other groups.Slow down the pace of the activities to allow more time for reflection and inspiration. Add research activities to acquaint the team with a wider variety of ideas and solutions. Encourage more brainstorming and reward imagination and uniqueness.
No collective memoryThe team makes the same mistakes over and over again. It does not recognize patterns, generalize from one case to another, or states conclusions in abstract terms.Add activities to require generalizing and abstracting results. Where else might this apply? What have we discovered earlier that might apply here?

Citation

Horton, William K.E-Learning by Design, 2nd ed., Pfeiffer, 2011.