Dysfunctions in a management team

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Dysfunctions in a management team
Five ways your managers can be failing – and how to correct the deficiencies

By Harry S. Dennis III, for SBT

TEC International and the Milkin Institute sponsored an electrifying conference recently that brought to one location many of the best management and economic thinkers of our time. One of them, Patrick Lencioni, offered some penetrating remarks about "dysfunctional" management teams.
This month, I share them with you at a time in our economic cycle when I believe that the ability of management teams to be "functional" is of the highest priority. Let me address the five culprits, one by one:

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Dysfunction No. 1: Inattention to results
Companies suffering from this team malaise are seen in businesses that have stagnated, where competitors are winning the game, where good employees are leaving and where distractions abound everywhere.
The remedy is leadership that publicly declares the results that are needed and then produces results-based rewards.
Contrarily, members of functional, trusting teams find ways to satisfy and retain achievement-oriented employees, minimize individualistic behavior, avoid petty distractions and resent failure at any level.
A Madison TEC member realized he had a president who was very good at focusing on the "process" of business, but not the results of business. He fired him. The business, under the guidance of a new president with a new functional team, has made a dramatic turnaround; 2003 will see the best results for this company in its 40-year plus history!

Dysfunction No. 2: Avoidance of accountability
Lack of management accountability won’t slip under the rug. Everyone sees it. Bill comes in late on Mondays, seems to have an excuse to get home early on Fridays, and leaves team projects dangling. He’s the No. 2 guy so no one can say anything.
Impact? Well, the message is that mediocrity is OK. The fact that deadlines come and go doesn’t seem to mean anything and, in general, the team leader is seen as powerless and ineffectual.
The remedy is the publication of goals and standards, regular progress reviews, team rewards and an insistence by the team leader that r
egardless of one’s position on the team, each member is accountable to the other.
Contrarily, members of trusting teams let the poor performer, regardless of his or her status, feel the pressure to improve. They challenge one another’s approach to problems and they do so sooner than later. They work from a platform of respect, not from a platform of accusation, denial or avoidance.
A Green Bay TEC member put his son, who was head of sales, in a two-day management development "fierce conversation" seminar. He later said his son had to either "put up or shut up" as a member of his management team. It’s a work in progress as this article is being written.

Dysfunction No. 3: Lack of clarity
The team has no directional sense and seems to retrace the same issues over and over again. There’s a lot of analysis going on here and there, and the common complaint is, "We can’t seem to get the pieces to come together." Lots of "second-guessing" going on, too.
The remedy is to set and meet deadlines, to "cascade" messages a little bit at a time but all pointing in the same direction, to develop "worst-case" and "best-case" portraits, and then for the team leader to go at it, even in the absence of full-team consensus.
Contrarily, members of trusting teams set clarity around direction and priorities, get themselves aligned around common objectives, move forward quickly and change direction without hesitation or guilt.
The owner of a well-known Wisconsin paint company faced an impossible battle against the EPA regarding lead contamination dating back 50 years and was close to total business failure. He mobilized his team around a very specific objective: to make the business an attractive acquisition to a deep pocket partner, who could assume the challenge of the on going EPA battle. He succeeded!

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Dysfunction No. 4: Fear of conflict
Controversial topics are ignored, there is a prevailing "hidden agenda," only selective team member opinions are solicited and a lot of the team’s energy is devoted to "behind door" discussions, never out in the open among all team members.
The remedy is to actually "mine" for conflict, to permit and encourage disagreement, but to use it in a constructive manner to push toward team goals, without criticizing any party to the conflict.
Contrarily, members of trusting teams have lively, interesting meetings, exploiting the ideas of all team members, debating issues spontaneously and saving the critical points for unified team action.
A Milwaukee TEC member recently faced a two-plant consolidation issue due to economic uncertainties. The question on the table was, "Which plant do we shut down?" His senior group has spent three months debating the pros and cons of Plant A versus Plant B. They needed to reach a decision by April 1. Both plant managers were on the decision team. The decision was reached, they have regrouped and are moving forward.

Dysfunction No. 5: Absence of trust
Concealing team weaknesses and mistakes, not asking for helpful feedback, holding grudges, dreading meetings for fear of exposure, giving answers that don’t answer anything and so on are signs of a lack of trust.
The remedy is for the team leader to openly display vulnerability to the other team members and for each team member to "come clean" about his or her concerns, reservations and trepidations about the team process. In addition, the team must open itself up to self-scrutiny by putting it all on the table and doing so believing that trust in this process will prevail.
Contrarily, trusting teams take risks with one another, ask for help, admit shortcomings, avoid politics and give one another the benefit of the doubt. They keep it all on the table.
A central Wisconsin TEC member recently laid off more than 10% of his workforce. There had never been a layoff in this company. It was critical that his management team keep the lay off information in total confidence for the four-month period during which the lay off deliberations – among the management team – transpired. A difficult decision, and the action was handled with little repercussion.
Until next month, I wish you good team functioning!

Harry S. Dennis is the president of TEC (The Executive Committee) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at 262-821-3340.

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May 16, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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