EnglishJuly 2, 20230

Dysfunctional Teams and the Sociogram: A Powerful Tool for Mediation

It is not uncommon for teams to become dysfunctional. The reasons for this are manifold. In a state of dysfunction, coping mechanisms that are deeply rooted in people’s psychology are often activated in an apparent attempt to resolve the situation. In this blog I present how to recognise dysfunctional teams and their response mechanisms and how to use the sociogram as an effective tool in mediation to resolve this situation.

Dysfunctional Teams

Dysfunction in teams can have various causes. These range from communication problems to a lack of clarity of roles or tasks to different values and goals. It is normal that team discussions do not always revolve around the actual work tasks. As a rule, these “divergent” issues are only of temporary duration. The problem starts when a team spends more time in an avoidance mindset than dealing with the actual work. And the situation becomes really difficult when it remains in this dynamic.

A team under pressure then often acts like a pack whose main concern is its own survival. Work teams are no exception. In times of heightened stress, calming these worries can override everything else. When the collective anxiety becomes unbearable, the team needs to do something about it. But instead of approaching the situation rationally, age-old coping mechanisms kick in. For example, the team assigns new roles to one or more colleagues.

Response Mechanisms of Dysfunctional Teams

In order to intervene successfully in dysfunctional teams, it is important not only to analyse the structure of the team, but also to understand the individual reaction mechanisms of the team members.

Wilfried Bion was one of the first scientists to identify so-called coping mechanisms, that on the one hand reduce anxiety in teams, but on the other hand leads to sabotage the actual “mission” of the team.

These mechanisms include:

Fight: Some team members tend to be aggressive in conflict situations. They will actively fight (verbally) against other members or against the team as a whole.

Flight (escape and avoidance): Other team members choose the path of flight or avoidance. They withdraw emotionally, take a passive role and try to avoid conflict.

Scapegoating: In some teams, individual members tend to scapegoat other team members for problems or conflicts in the team. They project responsibility onto an individual and blame him or her for dysfunctional conditions.

Sole saviour: When a team is afraid of the future or in search of direction or protection, they may surrender their autonomy to a „saviour“, unconsciously creating a relationship of dependency.

Dynamic duo: A similar form of dependency occurs when two people are used as “saviours”. The danger here is that the two people get carried away with their power and increasingly lose touch with reality.

Micromanagement (over-control): Some team members take control of the team `s tasks and processes by monitoring every move and decision made by others. This over-control can affect the trust and autonomy of other team members and lead to frustration.

Once the team has assigned one or more roles and they seem to have been accepted, the majority of the team members feel relieved. This behaviour can help the team move forward in the short term. In the long term, however, this behaviour corrodes the group dynamic and puts enormous pressure on the person chosen to absorb or otherwise manage the group’s anxieties.

These response mechanisms can lead to dysfunctionality being reinforced in the team. A vicious circle is created in which conflicts and problems continue to intensify without a constructive solution being found. It is therefore important to recognise these reaction patterns and to address them specifically in mediation. It is important to note that these reaction mechanisms are not exclusive to dysfunctional teams, but can also be present in normal working environments.

Identifying Dysfunctional Teams

Recognising and addressing these mechanisms is crucial to pave the way for constructive teamwork and effective mediation. Here are some signs that can indicate a dysfunctional team:

  • Frequent conflicts and tensions within the team that are not effectively resolved
  • Lack of communication and collaboration between team members
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities within the team
  • Low levels of motivation and commitment from team members
  • High turnover of team members or frequent absences from team meetings

In addition, you can identify whether your team is caught up in a destructive pattern of behaviour by asking certain questions respectively answering them:

  • Who usually speaks and about what?
  • Whom are the speakers looking at?
  • Who interrupts or challenges whom?
  • How does the team approach big problems?

Depending on the answers to these questions, you can see whether and in which reaction mechanisms, e.g. fight or flight mechanism, the team is in.

The Sociogram in Mediation

The sociogram is used to deepen the understanding of the social dynamics and relationships within a group or team. It is an effective way of visualising relationships within a team and identifying individual patterns of behaviour and response and response mechanisms. Thus, it enables team members to reflect on their role in the team dynamics and develop alternative ways of behaving.

Beispiel für ein Soziogramm




Each team member is marked by a circle and given a letter. The size of the circle corresponds to its influence on the team.

The distance between the circles expresses the distance or closeness between the members.

The thickness of the lines between the circles indicates interaction between them, while the dotted line indicates sporadic contact.

The arrows indicate the direction of communication




In this example, person F is excluded from the team and has only sporadic contact. Person C has the most influence on the team, but has no contact with either person A or F. …

In mediation the sociogram is used to enable team members to uncover misunderstandings. It thus provides a common basis for discussing and resolving conflicts. By sharing and analysing the sociogram, team members can identify their individual situation and understand how it affects the overall team dynamic.


Teams can become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons which can have a significant impact the productivity and effectiveness of an organisation. To identify these states and causes of dysfunction and to develop solutions, the sociogram is used as a powerful tool in mediation. It provides a visual representation of the social structure of a team and helps to make relationships, conflicts and communication channels visible. It serves as a starting point for further discussion, reflection and joint decision-making. Mediation supports team members to talk openly about their concerns, wishes and expectations and to work together to find solutions.


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