Podcast: Brandon Smith on How Dysfunction Manifests on a Team


Dysfunction has the power to derail leaders, their teams and their organizations. In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, we chat with Brandon Smith, a leadership and workplace communication expert who has spent nearly 20 years committed to improving the health and functioning of the workplace. Also known as The Workplace Therapist, Brandon coaches executives and organizations on how to overcome some of the biggest challenges facing the workplace.

“I want to eliminate all workplace dysfunction everywhere forever,” says Brandon. To start dispelling workplace dysfunction, leaders need to be able to identify what it is. “If you look in the dictionary for the definition of ‘workplace dysfunction,’ you're not going to find it,” he explains. Here is his two-part definition based on his decades of experience in workplace therapy.

Dysfunction Is…

1. Any pattern or behavior that is limiting members of the organization from achieving what they could or should under normal conditions. Meetings can be dysfunction. Processes could be dysfunction. Policies could be dysfunction.

2. Any pattern or behavior that is limiting the quality of the mental or emotional health of the workplace environment. This is what drains your emotional energy, like the abusive boss or the irritating co-worker.

Both kinds of dysfunction can seriously hinder the smooth operation of a workplace and make life miserable for workers and leaders alike.


Dysfunctional Meetings

“Meetings are the No. 1 culprit for dysfunction in almost every organization,” says Brandon. “Too many meetings, not well run meetings, not the right people in the meetings, not the right stuff covered in meetings.” If leaders could wave a magic wand that would transform meetings forever, they and all their followers would rejoice. TWEET

But running good meetings doesn’t take magic, just a bit of extra planning. “If you want to make your meetings rock-star awesome, just do these three things,” shares Brandon:

1. Preplanning: Spend extra time preplanning for your meetings. “Really ask yourself the question of who needs to be there and make sure you're only inviting people who need to be there,” he says. If some people only need to be there for part of the meeting, excuse them to leave early when their part is over. Send an agenda ahead of time to facilitate this and allow everybody to know what's going to be discussed and what they need to prepare.

2. Time Consciousness: “Don't ever let a meeting go over the time allocated,” Brandon shares. Watch your clock. Focus on the goals of the agenda, and leave time at the end of the meeting to assign everyone tasks to hold them accountable. This will help you avoid what Brandon describes as Groundhog Day meetings, where you have the same meeting over and over again. Also, be mindful that most meetings don’t need to be an hour long. Be willing to schedule for just 20 or 30 minutes.

3. Post-Meeting Hygiene: Follow up after the meeting. Send bullet points of all the things that people agreed to do, along with names next to each item.


Dysfunctional Leadership

What do you do if you’re having trouble with a team member? “Half of all the dysfunction of the workplace, particularly the people dysfunction, comes from a lack of clarity,” says Brandon. “Leaders can eliminate a lot of dysfunction through better clarity, and even clarity around the culture.” TWEET

If a leader does a good job of conveying clarity, then even if the person has a personality that may not be your favorite, the leader can focus on how he or she fits on the team. It's easier to look past the personalities as long as they're achieving the role and fulfilling their team goal.

After that, try empathy, whether that’s between you and a team member or encouraging empathy between struggling team members. “We don't all have to be best friends, but we do need to respect each other. We need to respect each other’s contributions,” he says.

3 Tips for Leading With Clarity

When it comes to dysfunction, clarity goes a long way in righting the wrongs that exist. “Clarity is the first step. Clarity on role, clarity on expectations, clarity on goals, clarity on culture… Go back to your teams, look through this lens and make quick fixes,” Brandon advises. 

1. Clarity on Roles: Everyone needs to know what their role is so they don't step on each other's toes.

2. Clarity on Expectations: Everyone needs to know what is expected of him or her and what success looks like.

3. Balanced Feedback: There’s a formula for this one—three positive feedbacks for every one negative.

“If you drive clarity on roles, drive clarity on expectations and give balanced feedback, that's going to give you a really great shot at having a dysfunction-free team,” says Brandon. TWEET

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This post is based on an episode of the Leadercast Podcast with Brandon Smith, The Workplace Therapist. Learn more about Brandon and listen to his podcast HERE. To hear this episode, and many more like it, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

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