Why Dysfunctional Groups Get Stuck

Transcript from Hospital unit participating in CREW:

Unit Manager:
[When colleagues heard I’d taken the Unit Manager Position here]
They said, “You’re nuts.
You realize who they are, and how many managers have been through there.
They’re not a nice a group.“

And do you know how many managers have been through here?

Unit Manager:
I can think of 7 off the top from the past 10 to 12 years.
Within two weeks of coming here, a group of staff were outside my office door chatting with me and they said,
“You need to be careful.
We got rid of the previous manager that we didn’t like, and we can do it again.
You need to watch yourself.
Ha ha ha.”
I thought, “Holy crap!”

[Prior to accepting the Unit Manger Position] The other managers didn’t tell me anything because they didn’t want to skew my initial perception. So after a few weeks when I came back, I said, “This is the vibe I’m getting.”
They confirmed my suspicions and said, yes, there had been previous a manager that they didn’t like and rallied to get rid of.
And they were successful.
And I said, “Okay, here we go.”

A striking thing about poorly functioning work environments is that they stay that way for so long. The logic of survival or of maximizing pleasure would push incivility out of the work environment, replacing it with fulfilling relationships. But instead, groups continue to roll along with entirely too many tepid if not disagreeable interactions.

Ongoing poor relationships are a problem. People want to connect with others at work. A vibrant workplace community attracts recruits and retains talent. And the nuts and bolts of a workplace community are the interactions among employees in the course of their work. Our position is that civility provides the infrastructure for teamwork by providing the means through which people can connect in supportive and respectful ways.

Incivility among colleagues undermines community. So, what gets in the way of groups correcting the problem? I’m sure many groups do evolve out of bad situations on their own, but clearly others continue to muddle along poorly. In our surveys we found no change over the course of a whole year on measures, including coworker civility, coworker incivility, and supervisor incivility.

In a short series of posts, I will consider the mechanics of perpetuating incivility: What prevents groups from improving the quality of their working relationships?
The potential culprits are:

  1. cognitive processes,
  2. the work itself,
  3. poor leadership fit, and
  4. the social dynamics among team members.

These are not necessarily competing mechanisms. Each factor makes a distinct contribution to the puzzle of perpetual bad behavior. Their effects combine to keep things on the wrong track for a long time.

What other factors have you witnessed contributing to workplace incivility?

Please suggest additional factors to consider.


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