Pull together

Ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Do your leadership team members openly disclose their opinions?
  • Are team meetings compelling and productive?
  • Does your team make decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down?
  • Do your team members confront each other about their shortcomings?
  • Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?

Recently, one of my clients, a bright and successful executive on the West Coast, told me about a book he was reading, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni has written several best-selling business books and published this one in 2004. In it, he presents a business fable, which brings to light descriptions of the five dysfunctions of a team. He offers suggestions for the team leader to use in overcoming the dysfunctions and in building a team with vigor and productivity.

Lencioni has worked with many business organizations all over the world, as well as NFL teams and non-profit organizations. He believes that all teams are potentially dysfunctional since they are made up of fallible imperfect human beings. Team members have their own personal goals, which often are more compelling than the collective goals of the team. It’s a part of human nature that creates an obstacle to true team building.

Fortunately, Lencioni does hold out some hope. He says the causes of dysfunction are “both identifiable and curable” though they don’t die easily. It is possible to create a cohesive and functional executive team…and… it takes a lot of courage and persistence.

The first dysfunction that Lencioni describes is absence of trust. We all know if team members are reluctant to be honest with each other or admit mistakes and weaknesses, trust will never develop. If the members are more committed to individual recognition and career development than on collective goals, honesty will not prevail.

In his book, Lencioni does emphasize that trust starts with the leader. He offers suggestions for creating an environment where trust has a good chance to grow. (After the appearance of one of my articles on trust, a reader called me and said, “In order to be trusted, you have to give trust.” That is sensible, and true. The leader must trust the executives on the team and exhibit trustworthy behavior in order to engender trust among team members.

The second dysfunction is fear of conflict. I’ve said before I wish I had a spray can I could use to melt down this fear. It causes so much wasted energy in the workplace. If team members won’t openly present their opinions and debate key issues, any resulting decisions are diluted at best. Team members waste time talking about their opinions away from team meetings and in the hope of drawing support – not in the hope of creating great team decisions.

Dysfunction number three is lack of commitment. You’re beginning to see how these team dysfunctions are interrelated. If members hold onto their opinions and don’t trust each other, they will hardly be enthusiastic about a so-called team decision.

Next is avoidance of accountability. In a highly functioning team, members will point out to their peers actions that seem counterproductive to the good of the team. They may need to be coached in effective ways to give – and receive – this kind of feedback. And, of course, it must start at the top.

Dysfunction number five is inattention to results. Again, if team members never move beyond the natural tendency to put their own needs ahead of the collective team goals, the team will achieve little and the business will suffer. Team meetings may be used for whining and making excuses.

Even the best of teams will have struggles. Still, if you feel like your executive team is bogged down in politics and dysfunction, Pat Lencioni offers some good advice. So many leadership teams are dysfunctional that you can be assured of a competitive edge if you energetically attend to building in your organization a team filled with trust, open communication, commitment, accountability and a focus on collective goals.

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