We’ve all experienced relationship breakdowns, especially at work in our teams and organizations. We try to address those team relationship breakdowns by implementing teamwork and trust-building exercises, style assessments and communication processes. But so often, those relationship breakdowns don’t experience any permanent shift. Why is that?

This article will help you figure out exactly where and how obstacles surface for your organization through a powerful diagnostic model that has helped thousands of teams diagnose the root cause of their issues so that their conflicts can be solved for good.

There are four areas in which a breakdown can occur: the ends, the means, the coordination and relationships. Let’s take a look at each one in detail.

The Ends

“The ends” refers to your desired business outcomes. These are the results you want to achieve for your organization, including the level of growth desired, the level of profitability and any ways in which you want to change your business model. Ideally, this would include breakthrough business results or breakthrough business outcomes, but it could simply be whatever the next level of desired outcomes is for your business. Once you’re clear on the ends, you can move on to the means.

The Means

The means refers to your business strategy as well as your priorities. At a high level, you can ask yourself, “Where do we get the leverage for accomplishing our business outcomes? What’s the strategy we’re going to use to get there? What does that mean in terms of all our different roles and responsibilities for accomplishing your business outcomes?”


Coordination refers to implementation or execution, including things like planning, decision-making and problem-solving.

How do you make decisions in your organization? Are they made in a decisive, timely manner? Do you include the right people or do you make decisions in silos that cause problems down the line? How do you address problems that show up in the organization? Are they hidden or are they surfaced immediately and addressed? Do you get the right people engaged in helping to solve those problems? Do you get innovative solutions or do you just go back to the old way of doing things?

Coordination also involves accountability. Can you count on each other, regardless of functional area or level in the organization to do your parts, keep your commitments and move things forward in a timely manner?


The last place in which breakdowns can occur are in relationships, including things like style and communication differences.

The truth is, if you’re not aligned on your ends, by definition, you won’t be aligned on your means, coordination or relationships either. If you don’t agree on what you’re trying to accomplish, how can you agree on priority and strategy? How do you set up how you’re going to plan and make decisions? When you’re not aligned on where you’re going, you can’t do any of that and those areas of implementation will inevitably suffer, including relationships. You won’t be able to build trust or have effective communication if you’re not even talking about the same end goals to begin with.

If you are in alignment about your ends, then the next place a breakdown can occur is your means. If you’re not aligned on your strategy and priorities, the coordination about how to implement that strategy and make progress on those priorities won’t work. So how do you make sure you’re including the right people in planning and that you’re clear on your strategy? Once you are aligned on those, the next place the breakdown can occur is in coordination.

There are a lot of areas of coordination in which a breakdown can occur: Are you including the right people in planning and decision-making? Are you surfacing and solving problems creatively and holding each other accountable for business outcomes? If you’re not coordinating well, your relationships will also suffer. Frustrations will build and trust will be broken.

No matter where a breakdown occurs, it will always show up in relationships, but like we’ve discussed, the root cause is often somewhere further up the line. This is why focusing on team building and relationship building activities, styles inventories and communication improvement might make things better for a short time but will inevitably devolve as old issues resurface. Understanding each other’s styles and communication preferences is important, but if you try to solve the problem at a relationship level when it’s really a coordination- or means-level breakdown, the relationship-focused solution will only go so far. 

What is your team’s root cause of breakdowns?


  • Mark Samuel is a transformative leader with over 30 years of experience in the business world. He has helped hundreds of companies overcome stagnation, transform their businesses, and eliminate toxic work cultures to increase profits, morale, and customer experience. Mark trains leaders on how to implement sustainable changes within just one or two months--a revolutionary approach that he's pioneered with his team at IMPAQ. Mark writes frequently for Forbes and Thrive Global, and hosts the Conscious Leadership with Mark Samuel podcast. He is the author of 7 books, including his newest book, the USA TODAY / Wall Street Journal Bestseller "Reimagine Teams".