How to Spot Dysfunctional Behavior on Your Team and How to Improve It

By Craig Collins posted 19 days ago


From time to time superintendents or business managers will contact Illinois ASBO for technical assistance. Such was the case a couple of years ago when Executive Director, Dr. Michael Jacoby invited Rich Lesniak, retired business manager and former President of Illinois ASBO, and I to conduct an audit requested by a new superintendent of business and human resources. We went to his school district and made an interesting discovery...


The superintendent told us that the board wanted a set of outside eyes to review and comment on the operational effectiveness of all departments at the district office. To get started, we agreed that it would be appropriate to schedule separate interviews with each member of the business and human resources offices. The day of the interviews came and the interviews in the morning went well. Staff members were treating the interviews seriously and were being candid. As we were wrapping up one of the afternoon interviews, one of the administrative assistants made a casual reference to a red folder that she picked up at the end of each day. Up to this point, no one had mentioned this red folder. When we asked her about the red folder, she commented without any hesitation that the human resources and business offices did not really communicate, joint meetings were rarely held and when information needed to be shared, it was placed in a red folder and retrieved by a member of the other department at the end of each day. Apparently, this form of communication had been going on for some time, with the full knowledge and support of the business manager and human resources director.


Collaboration has become a buzzword in education, but I think we can all agree that dysfunctional teams, like the one described above, are no small matter. When adults in an organization don’t play well together, students ultimately suffer. Ineffective teams, even those at the district office, often result in lower staff engagement, higher staff turnover and poor decision-making, which may have monetary implications.

School improvement is not simply a matter of hiring a group of talented teachers and staff, but also creating an environment where these individuals can and are expected to work together, face-to-face, in a focused and cooperative manner to improve learning for students. Put another way, your school is only as good as the teamwork that exists among your teams.

One of the best books on teamwork is Patrick Lencioni’s, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, a book published in 2002 that still has relevance today. Lencioni identifies behavior that exist in effective and dysfunctional teams:
5_Dysfunctions.pngThe use of the red folder clearly falls into the category of dysfunctional behavior and while it may be an extreme case, all teams from time to time experience “red folder” behavior. Indeed, we know it when we see it and our school district pays a price when it persists. 

What happens, then, when you experience dysfunctional team behavior or you know that teamwork is not what it should be. First, let’s be candid. Addressing dysfunctional team behavior is often viewed as a distraction at best and a quagmire at worst. Helping a team get better requires persistence, honesty and humility. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

The good news is that there are resources available to you, some of which come directly from Illinois ASBO. Here are some ideas on how you can improve teamwork in your district:

  • Read Lencioni’s book, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – it’s an easy read and will help you better understand and identify dysfunctional team behavior
  • Administer Lencioni’s questionnaire contained in the book to evaluate your team’s susceptibility to the five dysfunctions and use it to chart a course for improvement
  • Illinois ASBO will host a half-day seminar on the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, on Thursday, October 17, 2019, at NIU-Naperville. You can register for this seminar here.
  • Illinois ASBO offers a number of Administrator Academies designed to strengthen connection, support collaboration and build teamwork among members of your team. Contact Deputy Executive Director, Sue Bertrand (, for details on how to bring one of these academies to your school district.

The important thing to remember is to put dysfunctional team behavior on your school district’s radar and start moving forward. And if you have any say in the matter, next time you order folders, select a color other than red.

By Craig Collins
Statewide Professional Development Coordinator
Illinois Association of School Business Officials