What Do You Lose When Teamwork Fails?

POSTED: Jun. 28, 2017

Program ParticipantsIs teamwork really that important or is it just another buzzword? Sometimes the best way to determine the true value of something is to recognize what would happen if it were lost.

Many of us have experienced a failed team, if not in the workplace, in school or sports. Do you remember loathing group projects in high school or college, worrying you’d be stuck with all the responsibility and not trusting the others to do their part? Or maybe you’ve been on an athletic team where factions form on what the strategy should be or who should start where. In both examples, do you remember the focus changing from the real objective, getting a good grade or winning the game to the drama? Your time and energy focused on looking out for yourself instead of getting the work done and succeeding.

In the workplace, a failed team has similar consequences, but can be even more pronounced because of the amount of time teammates spend together and the close quarters. The failure of a team can start for a number of reasons, but the consequences are the same: factions are formed, battle lines are drawn, communication stops and suspicion rises. Productivity and efficiency drop off sharply and any kind of collaboration or innovation is next to impossible. The focus changes from work to what the other group is up to and what your next move should be. The end of team cohesion is mainly characterized by a shift from a group-oriented perspective to a self-centered one. The goal becomes individual survival instead of group success and achievement.

What we tend to notice when a team fails is the negative, adversarial and uncomfortable atmosphere. But this negative work interaction has a significant impact on innovation and both together severely harm a company’s bottom line. To truly understand the value of teams and keeping a team functioning properly we’ll look at the following three areas in more detail:

  • Interpersonal
  • Innovation
  • The bottom line


Civility - When teams fail and factions rise, civility in the workplace takes a nosedive. This loss of mutual respect and sometimes outright hostility will end any kind of productive communication.

Shared Responsibility - People who no longer identify as part of the team or instead as a member of a faction within the team, no longer care about the shared responsibilities of the team and go into survival mode. They’re only concern is making sure their responsibilities are met, not the overarching team responsibilities. This means that work slips through the cracks, any kind of redundancy through overlap among team members is lost, and shared responsibilities are shirked or done begrudgingly and poorly.

Support - In an atmosphere lacking civility and a sense of shared responsibility there’s no support or encouragement either. When teams face challenges, individuals draw motivation from the support and encouragement of their teammates, but when a team fails individual members are cut adrift to face challenges in isolation, inhibiting the individual’s ability to meet them.

Shared Vision - When a work environment becomes this negative from a failed or failing team, a shared vision is the last thing on employee’s minds. The focus is on survival and defending position, not on what the team can create together. Without a shared goal it is harder to put the individual contributions of team members together into a coherent whole. Also, motivation drops when there is no shared goal to work towards.

Employee Engagement - All of these things that are lost when a team fails have something very important in common: they’re all necessary for employee engagement. Research has shown that employee engagement has incredible impacts on efficiency and productivity and, therefore, the bottom line.


Creativity - Stress is the greatest killer of creativity. Not only does the stress created by a failed team stifle creativity, the hostile environment deters people from expressing new creative ideas. Expressing a new idea is a risk and in a work environment devoid of support and encouragement, employees are unlikely to take that chance and instead focus on survival.

Learning Opportunities - In a healthy team, individuals learn a great deal from one another. The shared vision and responsibility leads teammates to teach one another new skills because it will help them better accomplish their mutual goals. When a team fails this informal training disappears because individuals will guard their information and skills as means of survival.

Collaboration - With a loss of civility, shared vision, responsibility and support, collaboration will simply be impossible. This prevents any kind of synergistic interaction between teammates and therefore further deters creativity. This means that without collaboration innovation will become incredibly difficult and its implementation will become unfeasible.

Bottom Line

Productivity and Efficiency - Employee engagement has a huge impact on productivity and efficiency, which in turn directly affect the bottom line. It’s hard to imagine a team that isn’t communicating, has no shared vision or sense of shared responsibility, working efficiently together.

Talent Retention - With an impending talent shortage, talent retention is key for companies to stay on the cutting edge and the atmosphere created by a failed team will only drive talent away. The resulting turn over will cost time, money and innovative ideas.

Innovation - For a company to stay relevant and on the cutting edge in any market the employees must remain innovative and, as discussed earlier, a failed team significantly inhibits innovation. When a company falls behind in innovation it gets harder and harder to catch up, even possibly leading to the failure of the company.

When a team fails, falling into factions and division, everyone loses. The employees, managers, and the company lose both financially and in well-being. With these possible consequences, we can see that teamwork is more than a nice idea; it’s essential.

While a company stands to lose quite a bit if a team fails, it also stands to gain a great deal from a healthy functioning team working with a shared vision, not least of which are financial gains. A healthy team leads to employee engagement, collaboration and innovation, which all work together to increase productivity and efficiency. Overall, this has a direct positive impact on the bottom line. With the understanding of the great value of teamwork and the consequences of its failure in mind, the next question is: what will you do to maintain, build or rebuild your team?