What teams don’t, can’t, daren’t or won’t discuss

What teams don’t, can’t, daren’t or won’t discuss

5 min.
September 2019

Being honest about taboo subjects and tackling them head on can address toxic workplace culture and revitalize ailing teams.

We’ve all been there– the sarcastic answers from a disgruntled colleague and team meetings that feel more like a wake.

Toxic office culture manifests in many forms and holds back team performance and learning, according to IMD professors Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux. At the heart of this age old dilemma lie the “Undiscussables” – off-limits subjects that poison team spirit and cripple potential.

The challenge of the “Undiscussables” has grown in recent years as new ways of working – virtually and across cultures – mean that colleagues can struggle to pick up signals or avoid stumbling blocks. The need to find effective ways to deal with the “Undiscussables” has  become more urgent.

These off-limits topics might save us from the stress of short-term conflicts but the long-term damage results in stagnation and an inability to change or learn.

Combining 10 years of research into team dynamics across business, sports, music, medicine and hostage negotiation with exposure to executive behavior through corporate consultancy work and IMD executive development teaching careers, Toegel and Barsoux have untangled four varieties of “Undiscussables” and devised diagnostic questions and guidelines to help identify and deal with this workplace scourge.

  • Does your team agree publicly during meetings but disagree (and vent) privately?
  • Does your team often use sarcasm, silence, or nonverbal gestures to signal disagreement?
  • Are team meetings too undemanding and unrealistically upbeat?
  • Does your team always seem to adopt similar perspectives on problems?
  • Are people reluctant to comment on issues outside their direct responsibilities?
  • Does your team spin its wheels on minor issues?
  • Do important items often get postponed or fall between the cracks?

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