Team burnout: risk created by leadership

Fengler discusses six factors of risk concerning team burnout: Leadership, institution, team, person, private life and target group. In this article I will focus on aspects for leadership, which push teams into team burnout.


Leaders and superiors create a big slice of the personal or team burnout cake, because they frame the context of how people work within their organisations.

Fengler names crucial features of leadership, which push teams and team members in despair: missing knowledge, weak implementation, conflict avoidance, unpredictability, control freak, boundary crossing, excessive demand, oppression of improvement initiatives, contempt for mankind as well as clique. 

Weak leadership

"Burnout" by driver Photographer, Creative Commons 2.0, Flickr

"Burnout" by driver Photographer, Creative Commons 2.0, Flickr

Constant hesitation of leadership influences teams strongly. Regarding a team this might result in intolerably waiting for improvement or decisions. Work cannot be finished or started. Sometimes even already declared decisions which are withdrawn or suspended and lead to waste.

Too often the team is missing support concerning important topics. Teams are not represented and nobody is available to defend team interest on an organisation level.

People feel manipulated and not taken seriously by appeasement. In the end it is the lack of perseverance, which demotivates teams and hinders their progress.

Furthermore sometimes leadership lacks courage to come to an unpopular decision, often because of conflict avoidance. If those kind of decisions are coupled to improvement initiatives, this leads to mediocrity. Teams and organisation get stuck unable to improve and the ethos of work degenerates further.

Overwhelmed self-organisation

"Team should decide" - no matter if competency is available or if the team is interested in the decision. No one cares if the team conflicts on the decision and tears itself into pieces.

Sometimes leadership is unable to deal with conflicts or missing will to take the decision. Then they pass responsibility to the team using the Trojan Horse self-organisation. Sometimes they even name it an act of virtue.

Especially if you work with agile methods and overwhelmed management, management delegates decisions into the team. The delegation of leadership or conflicting decisions often leads to chaos (even sometimes in very mature teams). Such kind of decisions might stress the team on a constant pace.

Sometimes missing competency is driving teams into mental overload. Sometimes majorities change within a team and decisions are challenged frequently. A lot of teams struggle with with a wrong decision and need help with an intervention. Worst case: a team takes a decision and gets overruled by leadership. 

In a perfect world, every team is able to handle every decision they get asked. In real world it's a long dusty road and a lot of team members like to be heard, but just want to make decisions concerning their own profile. For sure teams can learn to handle decisions, even wrong ones. Help them reflect on a regular base e. g. with retrospectives. Be sure it will take some time to earn maturity and endurance to questions theirselves and adjust.


Source (German only): Fengler 2015: Jörg Fengler, Klett-Cotta Verlag, Ausgebrannte Teams