How do you diagnose team problems? (with steps explained)

In this article, we will be learning more about team problems and how to diagnose them. We shall also be discussing different sources of team problems, the steps in diagnosis and the challenges we might face.  Every successful organization thrives on great team-work. However, team-work is not always rosy and easy. It comes with its fair share of challenges.

How do you diagnose team problems?

We can diagnose team problems by looking for the signs mentioned below. Though teams are the most basic unit in an organization, small problems over time can lead to giant ripple effects. Many team problems go unnoticed until big changes occur and only then does the management realize it. A few common signs of a team problem that can be understood at face value are:

  • ·   The organization has a toxic culture

Bad behaviors that go unchecked for long periods of time find their way into the very culture of an organization. Toxic habits like micromanagement, a lack of career development and unhealthy competition induce a negative atmosphere. This breeds unproductivity and poor work satisfaction among employees.

  • ·   There is a high turnover rate

Those employees who perform their duties well and are loyal to the organization will leave it only when they know it’s a sinking ship. When there is a regular pattern of high performers leaving the company for another one, it might be the sign of a management problem.

  • ·   Employees are burning out easily

When you find your hardest working employees burning out easily, this is a sign of a deep-rooted team problem. Employees who work the hardest for the organization tend to burnout faster. This happens especially when there is poor leadership or management, less communication and weak or absent rewards.

When you find that there is a high burnout rate among your top performers, it might be a good time to take a step back and think about what you can do better from a management perspective.

Sources of team-problems

Studies like this one, mention various factors that can lead to problems in a team. A few are summarized below:

  • ·   Rules that don’t guarantee safety from problems

Though many organizations think that having explicit rules may make problems disappear, this is not always the case. Many times it is because of the rules that problems arise. It is possible to have great rules and norms and also have a toxic culture in place. This is a tricky problem many workplaces find hard to solve.

  • ·   Bad habits that are hard to break

While some bad habits can be called out and plucked from the root immediately, some creep into the culture of the organization. When a certain behavior becomes a habit, it becomes a part of our subconscious thinking. This means that it is repeated regularly, and also is quite difficult to stop or change.

  • ·   Rules that don’t grow with the organization

Every organization aims to grow bigger and better. Sometimes rules which made sense when the company was small might not make any more sense when the company grows bigger. The same rules that helped the organization grow might form an obstacle that hinders any further growth. Those very rules can also lead to the formation of bad habits, lowly thinking and a toxic culture.

  • ·   Poor self-awareness

Though self-awareness might look like a concept reserved for philosophers and gurus, it is majorly a skill that everyone needs. Organizations with their team-leaders and team-members which are responsible for innovating great changes need self-awareness the most. However, our confidence in judging the qualities of others tends to be stronger than when it comes to judging ourselves.

This makes it hard to admit our strengths and even harder to admit our weaknesses. Still, the more we are aware of our bad habits and subconscious thought patterns, the better we can try to change them.

  • ·   Team goals don’t align with individual goals

When team goals and individual goals don’t get along together, there will be a problem in collaboration and cohesion. This also reduces trust and productivity of the team. When leaders take the time to open communication and understand their members, they get to clearly understand the individual goals of members. When they understand the individual goals, it becomes their responsibility to align them with the team goals.

Aligning team goals and individual goals allows productivity to increase along with job satisfaction and career longevity. While this is indeed true, it is also a fact that individual goals will not stay the same. As an employee grows, so does their goals. This can only be understood when there is healthy relationship between the team and constant communication.

  • ·   Poor emotional security

When organizations do not guarantee safety for their employees, the risks taken by them will be very few. The safety we are talking about here is of course, psychological safety. When team-members know they work in a safe-space to talk about their feelings, voice out their opinions and make decisions, they are bound to take more risks while staying loyal to the organization.

This safe-space with lots of emotional security can only be created by proper leadership and effective work-collaboration. When there is strong psychological safety, we can see employees being accountable for their tasks, admitting their faults, facing conflicts head-on and also offering creative ideas.

Steps in diagnosis of team-problems

In this section, the two different steps involved in the diagnosis of team-problems will be explained in detail.

  • ·   Observing team behavior

In this step, the leader or the management do not actively engage with the team. However, they keenly study the patterns in the team by closely observing them. The main areas of concentration should be on the verbal and non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication should go beyond body language. It should include eye-contact, gestures, and other factors as well.

The observer should be careful as to not intrude upon the team’s activities and only observe them. We should also be intelligent enough to select the right behaviors that are going to be used for measurement or data collection. Once these chosen behaviors have been observed and measured, we can compare them to the ground rules of the organization.

The ground rules should keep in mind the vision and values of the organization. They should also be aware of the short-term and long-term goals for the team for better comparison.

  • ·   Giving meaning to the collected data

The behaviors have been observed, collected and measured. The diagnosis does not stop here but continues on to the next step. In this step, we will be studying the information on a deeper level to find the causes of the observed behaviors. Psycho-social factors to keep in mind are the emotions and motives that may drive those certain behaviors.

An important point to remember in this step is ensuring that mere assumptions are not made. Unless it has been properly validated and proved, a certain action can just be something of chance or mood/affect. We have to make sure the behavior is repeated regularly for it to be noteworthy.

When we are looking for behaviors, it is best to keenly notice interactions between team members and their sociological patterns. Keep in mind to record regular recurrences and their correlations with other behaviors that might take place.

Challenges that you can face in diagnosing team-problems


The challenges that you will be facing when you are trying to diagnose a team-problem are mentioned below:

  • ·   Intruding while observing the team

When you are observing, it is important that you don’t intrude in the team interactions. This not only takes away your attention from observation, but also might take the team on a different spin. While observing, try to be as passive as possible, paying attention to small details that might be important to your cause.

  • ·   Multi-tasking while observing

As a part of a group that is trying to bring about solutions to the problem, you have to be solely focused on the task at hand, i.e. observing. Some human behaviors are so minute and subtle that it is easy for them to go unnoticed. These might be problematic behaviors that need to be stopped or changed immediately. Thus, while observing, concentrate fully on it without having any other work distractions on the side.

  • ·   Not matching behaviors to organizational goals

While choosing behavioral factors for observation and evaluation, we should choose such behaviors that are in tally with the goals of the organization. Not only the goals, but also importantly the vision and values of the organization should be kept in mind. A team might be performing well, but if their behavior is not in line with the vision of the company, their performance might be ineffective and drop over a point of time.

  • ·   Bringing judgement into the observation

As humans, we all have our own personal principles and beliefs. These might have been molded by our culture, our upbringing, our personal experiences and also our own genetics. Many a time, we find our own personal emotions and judgement making decisions for us. However, as a person who is trying to diagnose a team problem, it is best to leave judgement and subjective ideas outside the door.

When we are observing a team, our personal beliefs and biases should not intrude. Using an objective behavioral tool or psychological assessment might be useful in this matter.

  • ·   Observing several behaviors at the same time

Since human behavior can many times be subtle but magnanimous in effect, trying to observe and measure it can be hard. It becomes even more difficult when we are trying to observe many behaviors at once. While observing, choose a certain measurable factor and measure it’s occurrences in the team for a specific duration. Once you have measured and gauged it, you can move on to the next. In this way, we can ensure that the right data is being collected with the right perspective.


In this article, we have learnt more about team problems and how to diagnose them. We have also discussed the many sources that can lead to problems in a team. We also explained the different steps in diagnosis of a team problem and the challenges we might face while doing so.

Frequently asked questions:

How do you identify team problems?

Problems in a team can be identified by many signs. The most common are given below:

·   Poor communication between team members

·   Bad problem-solving tactics

·   Less participation from team members

·   A lack of creativity

·   No team identity

·   Ineffective leadership

How do you identify team problems?

To identify a team problem, factors that you have to keep in mind are:

·   Understanding the team intimately

·   Being open and honest

·   Figuring out the root cause and not just the symptoms

·   Focusing on issues beyond the team members and their work

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know


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