Summary of It’s Time to Tackle Your Team’s Undiscussables

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It’s Time to Tackle Your Team’s Undiscussables summary
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Healthy, productive teams have to be able to talk. When members can’t candidly share concerns and questions, teamwork suffers, performance falters and the effects can snowball. Professors Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux of the Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development have studied team effectiveness and group dynamics in sports teams, orchestras, medical teams and even a hostage negotiation team. Writing for the MIT Sloan Management Review, Toegel and Barsoux delve into the causes and consequences of “undiscussable” subjects and offer proven cures.

About the Authors

Ginka Toegel is a professor of organizational behavior and leadership at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Jean-Louis Barsoux is a term research professor at IMD.



Teams must find ways to talk about “undiscussables” – subjects that seem off-limits.

Executives at Theranos didn’t want to hear about problems with the company’s inoperative blood-testing tool. When Aaron Moore, a frustrated engineer, designed a prank advertisement mocking the device, executives didn’t laugh. Moore received a reprimand and soon resigned. The company famously met its demise amid charges of fraud. Cases where certain topics become off-limits to discussion don’t usually end so dramatically, but undiscussables can hamper any team’s functioning, prevent learning and lead to escalating conflict. 

Undiscussables drain a team’s energy, strain relationships and cause teams to waste time. They undermine the team’s ability to make intelligent decisions and adapt to change. Undiscussables happen because people choose not to talk about certain subjects rather than risk conflict or embarrassment. In particular, ...

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