No One Wins in the Blame Game


As an executive coach, I usually work with individuals. But I also coach colleagues who work together on the same team. This provides a fascinating window into team dynamics.  

In your own career, you've probably seen — or even been part of — teams with a combustible combination of personalities. For some reason, they just can't seem to work together, and they butt heads at every turn.

From coaching teams like this, I've noticed one thing they all have in common. Team members excel at pointing out how others create the destructive dynamic, but have difficulty noticing their own contributions to the situation. But playing the blame game never turns teams around. In fact, it rapidly erodes trust.

If you're on a dysfunctional team, start by looking at how you are contributing to the dynamics. Take a look at some common individual behaviors that can derail a team:

  • Jumping to conclusions. You assume the worst about others and don't give them the benefit of the doubt. If another team member is trying to change his own behaviors for the better, this may cause you to overlook his efforts.

  • Withholding. Instead of communicating directly about disagreements and resolving them, you silently seethe until you can’t take it anymore. It's almost inevitable you'll blow up— but no one will understand why.

  • Being too hands-off. Team leaders may fall into this trap more often than others. You think your direct reports can resolve the conflict themselves — even though there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. You don't use the power of your position or your influence to send a strong message that you expect them to work out their issues.

  • Badmouthing. When you gossip about or criticize your colleagues behind the scenes instead of working directly with them, you amplify tensions and model bad behavior for others.

  • Getting stuck in your emotions. You draw conclusions based solely on your feelings, failing to seek out or consider the facts or other perspectives that contradict them.

  • Not managing your own stress. When you're perpetually grumpy, tired, or stressed out, you're more prone to getting triggered by others. (Sound familiar? Read my blog article "5 Sure-Fire Ways to Get Centered Fast" for some tips that can help.)

If you're part of a contentious team, keep this article in mind as you interact with your colleagues. Identify one behavior to watch out for, identify the impact it has on others, and decide how you will engage instead. For additional ideas and strategies, check out "Building a Strong Team," part of my Leadership EDGE SeriesSM.