Chances are you already know when you’re part of an ineffective team in the workplace. Missed deadlines, petty confrontations, boredom and other negative signals are clear signs that effective teamwork has gone out the window. Identifying characteristics of an ineffective team can help you determine problem areas particular to your workplace situation. Not all ineffective teams share the same problems; it could be that just one or two negative characteristics needs to be rooted out before improvement begins.

Lacking Unity

One characteristic of an ineffective team is the lack of unity and cohesion. Effective teams are united around common causes, goals and beliefs, with the understanding that each individual’s contribution supports the collective mission. Teams lacking unity may not be clear about their specified mission, or may contain members who disagree about what common goals include. Members may drift into individual projects and tasks, disregarding the efforts of others to achieve overarching goals.


Disorganization is another characteristic of ineffective teams. This may lie in the basic structure of the team; members may not know or agree upon the team leader, assigned roles or tasks. There may be confusion about deadlines, expectations, processes or standards for quality. Without organized policies for enforcing responsibility and behavior, team members may act independently, without fear of disciplinary action.

Knowledge Gap

Teams lose effectiveness when they don’t have the knowledge or skills needed to complete their responsibilities. Even when members are motivated or committed to their cause, lack of information about their product, client, target customer demographic or government rules regarding their industry can cause disastrous results. Teams may be assigned responsibilities they’re ill-equipped to handle because they lack the skill set needed to achieve results.

Job Distribution

Teams suffer when there’s uneven job distribution. It may be that one team member has gathered all of the decision-making authority, high-profile responsibilities and resources for himself, leaving other team members unmotivated to participate. Free riders can cause tension and frustration by not pulling their full weight, resulting in other team members being forced to take on their responsibilities in order to get the job done. Additionally, ineffective teams may develop when large projects are assigned to groups lacking the manpower to achieve results.

No Self-Analysis

Ineffective teams may not monitor their processes for efficiency, while effective teams routinely analyze processes and system in place to identify areas of improvement. Self-analysis helps teams become stronger and more self-reliant, requiring less intervention from supervisors and managers. Ineffective teams may not realize how inefficient or unproductive their processes are, because they haven’t examined their methods or compared productivity with other teams.