Overcoming a dysfunctional team

In my last column, I introduced Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The concepts defined are: lack of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

In my last column, I introduced Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

The concepts defined are: lack of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

The first dysfunction is lack of trust. Teams that establish a foundation of trust appreciate and tap into each other’s skills and experiences.

This is the critical base that must be created prior to tackling the remaining four.

Three activities that I recommend to clients include the use of personal history exercises, behavioral profiling, and some form of a 360-degree feedback evaluation. The goal is to build a sense of connection by sharing strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.

Although there is fear in sharing our vulnerabilities, the outcome actually builds trust in one another’s strengths and abilities.

This week, I’ll highlight strategies to overcome the other four dysfunctions.

Overcoming a fear of conflict

Conflict is one of the hardest dysfunctions to deal with. Aggression, personal agendas and office politics cost your business precious resources.

Conflict is generally viewed in negative terms. Controversial topics are avoided and individuals refuse to share differing opinions or perspectives.

Reframe the word “conflict” to mean open, honest and positive discussion. Introduce the concept at team meetings. Establish a structured, safe environment and give permission to engage in active debate.

Remember to set the rules. All debate is issue-based –—no personal attacks allowed.

Encourage, support and even “mine” for conflict. Get all the ideas on the table and have each team member highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each idea. When there is disagreement, encourage further discussion.

This activity will make everyone feel uncomfortable at times. It will definitely not succeed if the group has not overcome a lack of trust.

Overcoming lack of commitment

How often do we fail to get real commitment from people? The lack of clarity and/or a fear of being wrong prevent team members from making decisions in a timely and definitive way.

If there is no trust and no opportunity for thorough discussions, there will be a “Why bother?” attitude.

Set new standards to become the norm. All issues and decisions should be recorded and communicated to everyone within 24 hours.

If there is one “That’s not what I thought we agreed on,” statement, then the group clarifies the decision. This helps prevent spinning the results to an individual’s advantage. It also increases buy-in.

A decision doesn’t require consensus. Great teams can learn to disagree and commit to a decision.

Avoidance of accountability

A dysfunctional team comes to expect a range of performance standards among their co-workers. They’re accustomed to missed deadlines and deliverables and expect the leader to be the only source of discipline. Members will avoid and even ignore poor behavior.

Once the team has established an environment of trust, and overcomes their fear of conflict, they will hold one another accountable for their behaviors and overall commitment to results.

To help overcome accountability issues, publish the team goals and the agreed commitments of each member. Everyone should report on their top priorities at each meeting, including how they plan to deal with any shortcomings before they become major problems. Transparency ensures that the team will develop a culture that holds their peers accountable.

Inattention to results

Dysfunctional teams tend to focus on personal careers and individual goals rather than team goals. This erodes the focus on collective success.

To avoid this, publish the team’s goals and chart the progress and results. Use a simple, visual tool that can be assessed at any given time.

Define and reward the team’s successes. Be sure to recognize and celebrate everyone’s small achievements.

In the forward to The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, it states that, “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

If it’s true that teams make faster and better decisions than individuals, why is genuine team work so elusive?

Implementing change takes time and persistence. And, it starts with the business owner and managers. There must be a good understanding of the methods and a commitment to invest the necessary time and energy.

These changes are not hard to do, but they are difficult to achieve. Each dysfunction must be dealt with in the order listed, as one builds on the other. Lencioni’s book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, offers a thorough overview and provides helpful exercises and tools to use to build a better team.

Remember, “Teamwork is not a virtue, it is a choice.”

To review the information in my last column; go to bprda.wpengine.com and key in “actioncoach’ in the Search box in the upper right corner.

ActionCoach is published on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month in the Business section of the Advocate. It is written by John MacKenzie, whose Red Deer business ActionCoach helps small- to medium-sized organizations in areas like succession planning, systems development, sales and marketing, and building/retaining quality teams. MacKenzie can be contacted by email at johnmackenzie@actioncoach.com or by phone at 403-340-0880.