4 Differences Between Healthy & Unhealthy Teams


Healthy things grow!

Healthy team thrive!

But health isn’t easy. Teams have to fight to get healthy and stay healthy. My own team fights daily to maintain a healthy culture. 

I have learned the differences between a healthy team and an unhealthy team can be subtle. What appears healthy on the outside may harbor conditions robbing teams of effectiveness. Here are four differences that exist between healthy and unhealthy teams. 

Unhealthy teams have high levels of fear. Healthy teams have high levels of trust.

Stephen Covey wrote a fantastic book called The Speed of TrustHe essentially says when trust is high, speed is high & cost is low.  When trust is low, speed is slow & cost is high. Take communication for example: In a high trust environment, you may say the wrong thing and people may still understand what you mean or give you the benefit of the doubt. In a low trust environment, you could be very intentional in what you say and may still be misinterpreted. 

Unhealthy teams learn things through discovery.  Healthy teams discover things through transparency.

Too few leaders realize the value and power of saying the last 10%. I like to call it "fighting for trust."  In any situation, the healthiest way to discovery is by way of courageous honesty. As potentially painful as it is to be transparent, it is more painful to discover someone has been harboring ill feelings for a period of time. So many teams are plagued by artificial harmony because they don’t practice transparency and truth-telling. Living in the tension of telling the truth facilitates authenticity and health.

Unhealthy teams confuse excellence with perfection. Healthy teams turn excellence into a habit. 

Perfection is a singular, elusive, moment. Excellence is not an act, but a habit. While everyone strives to do their best work, they are not shackled by the false god of perfect. Healthy teams fight the monster of perfect outcomes by reframing an elusive value into consistent habits. For example: Creating an organizational habit of returning calls or emails within 24 hours is a value that is easy to hold others accountable to that creates a habit of excellence.

Unhealthy teams have one leader who is the smartest person in the room. Healthy teams harness the brilliance of everyone in the room.

Leaders of healthy teams have a good handle on their ego. While they may have a solution to a problem, they know their job is to draw the best solution out of their team. Often times this means the best leaders are also the quietest team members. They know their words trump the room so they hold them for strategic moments, allowing the best results to come through the giftedness of others on the team. 

You may be on an unhealthy team. There’s hope. Tenaciously practicing good habits, clear communication and defining realistic expectations can help move a team towards healthy. Don’t give up. Health is worth fighting for, so go fight for it!