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How Good Teams Fall Apart

By Ray Sclafani | February 24, 2021

White Chess King among lying down black pawns on chessboard stock photo

It’s rarely a cataclysmic event. Far more often, it’s a slow, cumulative effect – the impact of small, insidious behaviors that in and of themselves seem relatively harmless, but when combined and over an extended period of time, can eat away at the morale of your team and jeopardize the foundation of your business.

At ClientWise, we spend a great deal of time working with advisors and their teams to identify and model the habits and behaviors that distinguish some of the most successful interdependent teams. Over and over again, we continue to witness qualities and traits that distinguish the great teams from the ordinary – common intent and purpose, a shared vision, living the firm’s core values daily, expressing empathy for one another and clients, displaying compassion, and partnering around shared decision-making and shared success.

There’s a notion of extreme ownership in these teams – where every member feels and works as if they’re an owner in delivering for the client. There’s a sense of equality with each team member feeling empowered to make decisions, provide advice, and own the delivery of measurable results.

In 2016, Google conducted a broad study of team effectiveness and identified five key pillars of success:

Psychological safety where individuals feel safe in taking risks and allowing themselves to be vulnerable in front of one another;

Dependability where members of the team can be counted on to get things done on time and to the expected high standards;

Structure and clarity in which each team member has a clear role, plan, and individual goal they’re expected to achieve;

Meaning in that the work of the team is personally important to each team member; and

Impact so that team members feel as though the work they’re doing matters and will create meaningful change.


20 Toxic Team Behaviors

But team building isn’t just about modeling good behaviors. It also requires an ability to identify destructive and divisive behaviors early on, so they can be addressed and corrected before doing irreparable harm. In his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith identifies 20 of the most common insidious behaviors that can quickly eat away at the morale of your team and create an adversarial rather than a collaborative environment.

  1. The need to win at all costs and in all situations
  2. Needing to add one’s two cents to every discussion
  3. Constantly passing judgment on others
  4. Making destructive comments with needless sarcasm
  5. Overusing negative qualifiers (no, but, however) to passively say I’m right, you’re wrong
  6. Needing to show people you’re smarter than they think you are
  7. Using emotional volatility and anger as a management tool
  8. The need to share negative thoughts even when not asked
  9. Refusing to share information to retain an advantage over others
  10. Failing to give proper recognition, praise, and reward
  11. Claiming credit that that isn’t deserved
  12. Making excuses for unacceptable behavior
  13. Clinging to the past as a way to deflect blame
  14. Playing favorites to the extent of treating others unfairly
  15. Refusing to express regret or take responsibility for one’s actions
  16. Not listening as a passive-aggressive show of disrespect
  17. Failing to express gratitude
  18. Punishing the messenger
  19. Passing the buck and blaming everyone else
  20. Exalting one’s faults as virtues because they’re ‘who I am’


Don’t allow all your hard work in building a successful, interdependent team to be undone by seemingly inconsequential behaviors that could easily be corrected if identified and addressed early on. Be very attentive to the dynamics going on in your team. Communicate regularly with each and every member and encourage them to suggest ways in which team chemistry might be improved.

Remember that the best advisory firms in the business tend to distinguish themselves by doing a far better job of recognizing and nurturing the talent within their advisory teams. Rather than celebrating top producing individuals, shift your focus to celebrating top performing teams.


Coaching Questions from this article:

  1. Think about the overall culture of your firm. Are you confident that you have your finger on the pulse of how team members feel about the business?
  2. What is the current level of engagement, communication, and collaboration within your team? What steps can you take to create measurable improvement?
  3. How can you better emphasize the importance of mutual support among team members, and stress that success depends on the participation and commitment of everyone on the team?
  4. How might you help team members feel more supported in taking risks, questioning decisions, and exploring alternative approaches and methodologies?

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Topics: Team Development

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