The Butterfly Affecting Teams

01 Nov 2013 – Loretta Ritorto – Featured –


There is nothing more inspiring than working in or observing a high energy – high performing team.


Building a successful team requires continuous effort and forward planning. Just because everyone is performing well now does not mean that it will continue. Some leaders believe that once they have recruited the right individuals everything will automatically fall into place.


But when things don’t go as planned it is easier to lay blame on external influences. Group dynamics and particular individuals who you believe “rock the boat” or “are not suited to the role” form the basis of your analysis and conclusion.

Over a period of time teams that are not monitoring themselves will fall apart. Look for these early warning signs:

  • Arguments replace team discussions
  • Resentment is allowed to fester
  • Voting replaces consensus

One of the most common complaints I hear from Managers and Leaders are;
“We used to be a tight nit team”, “We worked well together” and “I want to boost team morale”.

These statements are the result of unintended consequences with outcomes that were not anticipated. Another simple analogy is to adopt the principle of “The Butterfly Effect“. A popular hypothesis in chaos theory which states that in any dynamic system, small initial differences may over time lead to large unforeseen consequences.

When the team begins to drift off track you can be certain that the butterfly effect has been set in motion. A series of small events will eventually have a cumulative impact. No one is aware of what is happening and if allowed to continue, the once high performing team will lose focus. The team will only realise this impact when something major happens – i.e. new manager or a key team member leaves.
There are many other reasons why the team loses focus; they become victims of their own success, they stop taking risks, team members are replaced.

More warning signs;

  1. Team members feel that team meetings are a waste of time
  2. Interpersonal conflicts within the team
  3. Crisis management becomes part of the daily routine – unrealistic priorities and deadlines are set
  4. Your team is not getting recognised – no one feels valued


Bring the team together for an open, honest and non-defensive discussion. Ask them how they feel about the current situation. Your questioning techniques should be open ended/probing questions to encourage dialogue. Make sure everyone has the opportunity to speak and be heard. It is important that all viewpoints are noted. People need to know that their feedback and opinions are valued and recognised. It is also important not to get defensive during the open and honest discussion. Displaying a defensive and hostile attitude will only build resentment and cause the team to fall apart. Respect and trust will walk straight out the door – along with key employees.

Revisit the vision and purpose of your business – agree on the operating guidelines that guide how everyone fits in and works together. Then focus on problem solving; “what needs to be changed” and “what is our next course of action”.

Everyone should be asking themselves these questions:

  • Do we trust each other?
  • Do we feel free to communicate openly?
  • Do we understand our team goals?
  • Are we committed to the team and our function?
  • Are all our abilities recognised?
  • Does everyone participate?
  • Are we given the opportunity to voice our opinions without put downs and ridicule?
  • Do we respect each other and our differences?
  • Do we enjoy being members of this team?

Taking time out to refocus on the team’s purpose will allow you to set a new course of action that will take you where you want to go.