Episode No. 142
  •  July 4, 2024

Why Teams Fall Apart

Entrenchment and Fault Lines

We are surrounded by entrenchment – in our communities, at work, in our families and certainly politically.  Entrenchment happens when an attitude, habit, or belief becomes so firmly established that it morphs from “what I believe” into “who I am,” and it makes change difficult and unlikely.

Enter fault lines: the cracks that split groups into subgroups based on aligning attributes like race or age. For instance, young Latino players might form a clique separate from older white players in a Major League Baseball team, creating internal conflicts that erode team cohesion and performance.

Faultlines can breed conflict and hamper communication, however, they can also foster a sense of belonging within subgroups. Accountants and marketers might struggle to collaborate due to their different professional languages, yet find comfort and cohesion within their own teams.

To combat entrenchment, leaders need to first understand the different types of subgroups and their effects. Consider spatial presence, surface-level characteristics like gender or race, knowledge bases, and deep-level identities like values and beliefs, which all play roles to a greater and lesser degree in subgroup formation and entrenchment.

Observing team interactions—who talks to whom, who aligns with whom—can reveal existing subgroups. Leaders should also be aware of their own potential alignments with these subgroups.  To break down these entrenched barriers, leaders can mix up team memberships, emphasise shared goals and adversaries, encourage formal and informal time spent together, and engage boundary spanners who can navigate between groups. Embracing curiosity about other subgroups is also key.

Other Good Reads:

Toward A Temporal Theory of Faultlines and Subgroup Entrenchment – Meister – 2020 – Journal of Management Studies – Wiley Online Library

Is Your Organisation Digging Trenches or Building Bridges?

Faultline Theory: Why Teams Fall Apart | by Small World Solutions Group | Medium