Team: A leadership failure

‘When we understand how vital human systems are, we allow ourselves to learn from positive synergy when we encounter it and do something about negative synergy when we see it,’ said Dr. Michael Broom.

BY MICHAEL F. BROOM, Ph.D., Organization Development Psychologist

Leaders lead teams of people working together to accomplish their goals. Yet, 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional, or so an article in the “Harvard Business Review” states. A University of Phoenix study documents that 95 percent of employees see teams as important, while 68 percent had experienced teams as dysfunctional.

The organizations of these not-so-useful teams have intelligent, experienced leaders who constantly speak of the importance of teams. In truth, leaders are only as good as their teams.

So, what’s the problem? Why are so many teams underperforming? What are these smart, experienced leaders missing? And why are they missing it?

They are missing an understanding of human systems: a concept unfamiliar to most leaders. A human system is any group of people who impact each other. Teams, committees, families, clubs, neighbors, and friendships are human systems in which their members influence each other.

Human systems direct or do all work in organizations. Those human systems are teams. They are the fundamental unit of organizations, not individuals.

Most important: they take on a life and behaviors of their own separate from the intentions and values of its members. And, if we do not understand them, they will manage us rather than our managing them.

Most of us and most leaders do not see human systems. Unfortunately, we cannot manage what we do not even see. If we find ourselves in human systems that are productive and satisfying, we consider ourselves lucky.

Too often, we find ourselves in teams and other group situations that waste time and energy and hinder what we wish to accomplish. Too often, we resign ourselves to putting up with these dysfunctional situations.

Think of all those meetings you’ve been to that were a waste of your time and energy!

We may single out some members of the system or the team to blame. Occasionally, we abandon these situations, hoping the grass will be greener elsewhere.

Team problems are unsolvable when we do not see and understand them as system problems and not any single person’s fault. As a result, human systems manage our behavior. We aren’t managing them; they are managing us.

Understanding human systems

All systems, human or otherwise, produce results the sum of their components could not produce operating independently. They are synergic.

A system’s synergy is positive when a system produces results greater than the sum of what the members could produce working independently. Our cars, computers, and other machines comprising many components—when they are working well—are examples of positive synergy.

A system’s synergy is negative when the results are less than the sum of what each component could produce alone. Those meetings that waste time are examples of negative synergy.

None of those present in those meetings want to waste so much time. The quality of their interaction with each other in the meeting creates the negative synergy.

Leaders have ignored or missed that groups of people interacting together are systems of positive or negative synergy. Seduced by the insistent western focus on the individual, we fail to understand or see human systems.

When we understand how vital human systems are, we allow ourselves to learn from positive synergy when we encounter it and do something about negative synergy when we see it. We can turn dysfunctional teams into productive and satisfying ones.

In our next article, we will explore how to do just that.

There is always more to learn about creating impressive teams and organizations. You will significantly deepen your understanding and skills for working with organizations and teams if you sign-up for the powerful programs: “The Nine Disciplines of Leadership & Self-Mastery and The Seven Core Actions of Complex Change.”

These master class-level programs are both intensive and comprehensive, with a clear focus on skill-building. Check them out at or email me at

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D., has been an organization development psychologist for 45 years. He consults with organizations of all types, including Google and Genentech, among others. He has taught at major universities, including Johns Hopkins and American. For more information, you can contact him at or

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top