Dysfunctional teams can destroy a business, but you need to understand the root causes of the issues to ensure your solutions work in the long term. Discover how to find those root causes and how to transform your team into a top-performing one using The PERILL Model.

Teams are part of a complex, adaptive system. Multiple elements influence and interact with each other. This means if you are going to help teams reach peak performance you need to use your complex and systemic lens. Rather than apply a simple solution to a complex problem, create team building workshops, apply the simplexity principle – make complex things simple, but not simplistic.

As David Clutterbuck says in his book, Coaching Team At Work, “high performance or low performance of a team is more complex and often less rational than we like to think.” David concludes that a team dysfunction is more likely to be a mirror image of team effectiveness which makes it complex and systemic. He has identified six interacting elements that influence and are influenced by each other, resulting in functioning or dysfunctioning teams. The six elements, which make up The PERILL Model are:

  • Purpose and Motivation – clarity of collective purpose, values, vision, goals and priorities
  • External Systems and Processes – how the team interrelates and interacts with its multiple stakeholders e.g. suppliers, customers, shareholders, competitors
  • Relationships – the quality of the interpersonal relationships
  • Internal Processes and Structures – how the team work together e.g. communicate, make decisions
  • Learning Processes – how the team responds to and learns to grow in a changing environment
  • Leadership – how the team’s leadership is helping or hindering team performance

The Warning Signs of A Dysfunctioning Team

Using The PERILL Model framework, here are some indicators of team dysfunctions.

Purpose and Motivation

  • Team purpose is interpreted in multiple ways
  • Conflict about goals and priorities
  • Low connection around team values

External Systems and Processes

  • Poor reputation with stakeholders
  • Failure to establish clarity of stakeholders’ needs
  • Surprised by changes in the marketplace and competitor actions


  • Lack of psychological safety
  • Large elephants in the room not discussed i.e. conflict is avoided
  • Siloes or cliques

Internal Processes and Structures

  • Too large a team
  • Confusion over roles and responsibilities
  • Unclear decision-making processes

Learning Processes

  • Mistakes are repeated not learned from
  • Lack of innovation
  • Too busy, no time for reflection


  • Micromanagement
  • Lack of open communication between the leader and the team members
  • Poor role modelling of the team’s values

How Do You Fix A Dysfunctional Team?

Your instinct might be to go in and fix the teams’ dysfunctions one by one. The problem with that is you are unlikely to be addressing the root causes. And if you solve one issue this will influence other elements of the team dynamics.

For example, you may observe that one team member keeps making the same mistakes. And so you decide to go and ‘fix’ that team member with some team coaching and training. Things appear to improve but soon the team goes back to its base case performance (NB that is what systems do – bring things back to the previous state).

Why did this intervention fail? Because it was a linear approach, not a systemic approach. Any issue a team identifies as affecting performance may be influenced by multiple if not all of the elements within The PERILL Model.

The repetition of mistakes may be causally related to or exacerbated by:

  • Always on, no time for reflection
  • Lack of psychological safety in the team
  • Confusion about roles and priorities
  • Conflict between team members
  • Reward system encouraging speed over quality
  • Team member not playing to her strengths and should be in a different role
  • Lack of clarity of team purpose and why they are doing the work

This approach provides a more sophisticated overview not of discrete problems but of the complexity of the team systems. When the team looks at the dysfunctions with a systematic lens, they can see how the different elements influence each other. They can step back and look for patterns and connections between the various issues. Also, you can create CEO advisory group, which will help you to navigate many changes and transitions to succeed sustainably. This will help the team address the system as a whole rather than individual symptoms, which in turn will more likely get to the root cause of the problem.

Use The Systemic Approach To Transform Your Team Into Peak Performance

Solving the root cause not the symptom is going to get you the results you need. The PERILL Model is a great way to dig into the interdependence influencers within any team that drive more effective or less effective collective performance.

Questions to ask to help the shift to a broader view might be:

  • What is happening between us that isn’t about one of us in particular?
  • What is the bigger pattern?
  • What is the story we are telling which keeps us stuck?
  • In what ways is our story true and untrue?

By reflecting on these types of questions, you can begin to realise there are many different layers to the truth; it is rarely black and white and you can develop the capacity to spot the patterns that reveal the deeper truth in the system. Fit to Lead’s team coaching will help your teams deliver superior results. A top performing team is the difference between business success and failure.

If you want help diagnosing what you do well and what you don’t do well, and then transforming your team into high-performance, please get in touch with me at mark@fittolead.net.