Dealing with Barriers to Effective Teamwork

decorative imageThe collaborative nature of teams means they are subject to pitfalls that individuals working alone do not face. Team members may not always work well together, and focusing the efforts of individuals on shared goals presents challenges to completing tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The following pitfalls can lead to team dysfunction and failure to achieve important organizational objectives.

Individuals Shirking Their Duties

Since team members share responsibility for outcomes, some individuals may need to do additional work to make up for those not contributing their share of effort. This can breed resentment and foster other negative feelings that can make the team less effective. One cause of this is the failure of the team to establish clear norms of accountability for individual contributions to the group effort.

Skewed Influence over Decisions

Sometimes an individual or small number of team members can come to dominate the rest of the group. This could be due to strong personalities, greater abilities, or differences in status among members. When individuals either do not feel listened to or believe their ideas are not welcome, they may reduce their efforts.

Lack of Trust

Effective collaboration requires team members to have confidence that everyone shares a set of goals. When that belief is missing, some individuals may not feel comfortable sharing their ideas with the group. Lack of trust can also lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings, which can undermine the group’s efforts.

Conflicts Hamper Progress

While conflicts are a common aspect of working together and can even be beneficial to a team, they can also negatively affect team performance. For instance, conflict can delay progress on tasks or create other inefficiencies in getting work done.

Lack of Team and/or Task Skills

When team members do not have the collaboration skills needed to work well with others, the overall ability of the team to function can be limited. As a result, conflicts may be more likely to arise and more difficult to resolve.  A team that does not have the expertise and knowledge needed to complete all its tasks and activities will have trouble achieving its goals. Poor team composition can lead to delays, higher costs, and increased risk.

Stuck in Formation

Sometimes the group cannot move from defining goals and outlining tasks to executing its work plan. This may be due to poor specification of roles, tasks, and priorities.

Too Many Members/Groupthink

The size of the team can sometimes affect its ability to function effectively. Coordination and communication are more complex in a larger team than in a smaller one. This complexity can mean that decisions must take into account greater amounts of information, meetings are more challenging to schedule, and tasks can take longer to complete. Both large and small groups can fall prey to groupthink. Outcomes can suffer if team members value conflict avoidance and consensus over making the best decisions. People can feel uncomfortable challenging the group’s direction or otherwise speaking up for fear of breaking a team norm. This phenomenon is known as “groupthink.” Groupthink can limit creativity, lead to poor choices, or result in mistakes that might otherwise have been avoidable.

These articles and videos offer additional information on difficult team members and how to deal with them:

Note: The video “Skills for work: Team-working Skills” is also available with closed captions.

initial learning activity

You have been charged with leading a team at work to look into the possibility of instituting flex time.  Your organization, Acme Scissors, is a small business of 85 people; the business makes scissors for craft work, and also makes custom scissors for special purposes.  There are workers in a number of roles: craftspeople who are committed to making a specific minimum number of scissors a week (but can exceed that number for more compensation), staff who handle orders by phone and online, marketers whose job it is to market online and manage statistical information about orders, office staff, and management. Your manager chose team members to represent the various jobs and roles for a team to look into the possibility of instituting telecommuting and/or flex time and to report on their findings.  Your team consists of 7 members: 2 craftspeople, 2 staff who handle orders, 1 marketer, and 2 office staff.  You have had two short meetings to date, the first one of which was a short, informational meeting.  The second meeting, at which you thought you’d actually start the work of the team, was not very successful. One member was bored and feels the team charge is not important, one member was resentful of the time taken away from work, and one was quite vocal and combative, reacting negatively to suggestions about how to proceed and asserting that he did not see the need to investigate telecommuting and flex time at all.  These members seem to have influenced the other four, who started on the team with willing attitudes and have tried to contribute. You’re now starting the third meeting, and it seems as though people are falling into the roles and attitudes established during the second meeting.  As team leader, you know that you have to do something soon or the team will not function and produce as charged.

Discuss how you would deal with the difficult team members, both within the third meeting and after.  How, specifically, might you respond to each one?  Are there specific people you will deal with during the meeting?  If so, how do you intend to deal with them and why?  Are there specific people you will deal with after the meeting?  If so, how do you intend to deal with them and why?  Write and submit a full discussion (4-5 pages), including references to the articles and videos in your explanation.

Submit: discussion of dealing with difficult team members, with reference to articles and videos

in-depth learning activity

Research two relatively recent journal articles (2000s) on managing conflict in teams.  Review this text’s page on Academic Research to learn how to find articles in professional journals.

Summarize each article.  Review a resource on Summarizing in order to create an academically-appropriate summary.  Include an attribution at the start of the summary and a citation at the end.

Then synthesize the information from these two sources.  What are the main ideas that these sources offer about managing conflict in teams?

Finally, imagine you are an expert, freelance team facilitator being brought into Acme Scissors to train some staff on managing conflict in teams, as they have had some issues in the past.  (See the initial learning activity above for one experience that occurred at Acme.) Create a PowerPoint presentation that you will use in your introductory session to teach some main ideas about managing conflict in teams.


  • two article summaries
  • citations for each article
  • PowerPoint presentation

Related college Learning Goals

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Evaluate, analyze, synthesize and critique key concepts and experiences, and apply diverse perspectives to find creative solutions to problems concerning human behavior, society and the natural world.


For more information, see the College Learning Goals Policy.