The top five dysfunctions of a team

Genuine teamwork is the ultimate competitive advantage in business, yet the truth is that I have yet to see a business that doesn’t have team dysfunctions to some degree.

Genuine teamwork is the ultimate competitive advantage in business, yet the truth is that I have yet to see a business that doesn’t have team dysfunctions to some degree.

The book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is written as a “leadership fable,” a story of a technology company that is struggling in the marketplace to find customers. This is one book I highly recommend, as well as the followup Overcoming the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.

I’ve briefly highlighted the five dysfunctions below as outlined in Lencioni’s book, and introduced strategies to overcome the first.

1. Absence of trust makes it impossible to build a strong relationship foundation.

Even though it’s a human condition, we’re not willing to share our weaknesses or mistakes openly. We want to be perceived as competent and “right.” Lack of trust among business teams is costly as members invest their time and energy in defensive behaviours, and are reluctant to ask for help, share information or assist others.

2. Teams that lack trust have a fear of conflict.

Rather than engaging in a constructive discussion of ideas, they resort to veiled and guarded comments. Healthy conflict occurs when people talk about the issues at hand, avoiding personal attacks and office politics while looking for the best solutions overall.

Teams that avoid healthy conflict often replace it with an artificial harmony. This situation can be very destructive.

3. A lack of healthy conflict leads to lack of commitment.

If the team does not have an opportunity to air their opinions in an open, result-based debate, they rarely, if ever, take ownership or commit to decisions, even though they may appear to agree at the time.

4. If there is a lack of buy-in and real commitment, team members develop an avoidance of accountability.

Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people will not meet their personal standards and hesitate to call their peers on counterproductive actions and behaviors.

Team members put their individual needs (ego, career development or recognition) above the collective goals of the team.

5. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment that leads to inattention to results.

The five dysfunctions are inter-related. Like a chain with just one broken link, teamwork quickly falls apart if even a single dysfunction is evident. Most often all five dysfunctions are at play.

Overcoming absence of trust

Shared experiences over time builds “vulnerability-based” trust. It starts with the recognition that a combination of unique attributes grows through, demonstrating follow-through and establishing credibility.

Teams that establish a foundation of trust appreciate and tap into each other’s skills and experiences.

A focused approach can dramatically accelerate the process and achieve trust in relatively short order. Here are a few examples:

• Personal histories exercise

This low-risk exercise asks team members to answer a short list of questions about themselves. Alternatively, I ask everyone to talk in a bit more detail (at least five minutes) and end by telling the group one thing about themselves that no one knows.

I personally start the exercise to set the expectations. This works best in smaller groups. I’ve had incredible results with this as a first step.

• Personality, behavioral and communication preferences profiles

Effective tools for building team trust share the profiles of team members’ behavioral preferences and personality styles.

Two of the best profiling tools are DISC and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Both these exercises help individuals to better understand themselves and each other.

• Team effectiveness exercise

First rule, everyone takes their turn. Each team member states the single-most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team.

The process is repeated, this time stating one thing that each could either improve or eliminate for the good of the team. While team members are speaking, the “listener” cannot speak or defend themselves. In fact, when each person is finished each round, the listener must thank them.

I am constantly amazed by people’s general willingness to go through this exercise. This is basically a generalized 360-degree feedback without anonymity.

• 360-degree feedback

This is usually done anonymously.

These tools require peers to make very specific judgments on key areas and provide constructive criticism. Each team member receives a gap analysis between how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them.

It is important that each person being evaluated complete the assessment personally to get the gap analysis. Effective 360-degree feedback processes must also include develop plan and coaching sessions.

Team leaders must model the values and behaviours in order for the team to trust the relationship. At times this requires a leader to risk losing face in front of the team. They must have the courage to be human, admit mistakes and apologize if necessary.

Team members that trust their leaders and co-workers are willing to ask questions and accept input when they need it. They appreciate and tap into each other’s skills and experiences.

The work environment values credibility, fairness and respect.

This topic is extremely important and I’ll be addressing strategies that will help to eliminate the remaining dysfunctions in my next columns.

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.

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