Any department of sufficient size will have responsibilities and roles that involve many aspects of team work. In any given organization experiencing low morale, most likely an atmosphere of poor teamwork exists. For these organizations, this lack of quality teamwork will be counter-productive, thus making goals much more difficult to achieve. In the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, Patrick Lencioni documents the dynamics of what causes typical team problems and how to correct them.
Lencioni breaks down the five dysfunctions into the following categories:
1. Lack of Trust
According to Lencioni, everything revolves around the principles of trust. For a team that lacks trust, all other problems will not be overcome. The lack of trust usually signifies an environment where co-workers are jockeying for position for promotions, working with personal agendas ahead of the team or organization, or simply putting personal interests as their top priority. Some techniques Lencioni suggests are the following:
- Personal history: the exchange where team members all share non-threatening information about themselves.
- Team effectiveness: team members point out important skills each employee has, but also has recommendations for areas in need of improvement.
- Personality profile: i.e., Myers-Briggs
- 360-Degree evaluations
- Rope courses, trust falls, etc…
2. Fear of Confrontation
Effective teams need to be able to respectfully confront each other when required. Lencioni documents two different types of confrontation. Good confrontation encounters are honest, open, and are goal oriented. Bad confrontation typically involves contests of ego and political advantage. Managers and team leaders need to accept that confrontation and conflict are actually good when done with respect. Techniques for building positive confrontation exchanges can include:
- Digging for disagreements: team members agree to look for areas of disagreement, document them, and work through them with each other.
- Give permission to engage: leaders and managers need to remind team members that disagreement is good, useful, and necessary.
3. Absence of Commitment
In a commitment vacuum, efforts become minimal and goals are not met. In environments where there is an observed lack of commitment, team members will tend to focus on other things not necessarily related to the goals or mission of the organization. Some techniques described by Lencioni include:
- Decision by consensus: Instead of top down decision making, having the consensus of the team will allow for the team members to take ownership of the project.
- Reliability: Establishing a mindset that enables the team members to rely on the decision that was made will not allow for procrastination or deferral. Not making any decisions is not acceptable.
- Wrap-up: ending each meeting with a summarization of each decision reinforces the job at hand for all team members.
- Set deadlines: set a date and hold the team accountable.
- Scenario analysis: Documenting various scenarios of success, including a worst-case scenario to adequately prepare.
- Commitment in small things: making commitments when the stakes are low helps build motivation to commit when stakes are high on weightier issues.
4. Absence of Accountability
Team progression will falter in situations where they are uncomfortable holding each other accountable. This can include situations where a team member is unaware of their problems, or in some cases can be overly reckless. A reckless team member can be counter-productive which will result in a loss of trust with that employee. One bad decision can result is this loss of trust and reputation, which can take a long time to recover. Negative feelings will prevail for team mates who make mistakes, but are never held accountable for them. In order to build an atmosphere of accountability, Lencioni suggest the following:
- Make goals and responsibilities clear: managers cannot afford muddled or confused goals. Make them crystal clear and leave no doubts or inconsistencies.
- Do regular checkups: review progress on projects and personnel early and often.
- Offer team based rewards: build cohesion and common purpose by basing rewards on achievements instead of individual performance.
5. Failure to Focus on Goals
Any team will lose when team members are not focused on the end-goal or on individual objectives. In order to improve performance, team members should commit to the achievement of the organization’s objectives and goals. If results are made public and have rewards based on these results, the team can work to reach this goal ahead of personal agendas or distractions. Rewards should not be given out if goals are not met. This will keep the team working together for the common good. In baseball, the pitcher may pitch a great game, but if the team loses, the pitcher gets a loss on his record. It is not whether or not individuals perform well; it is whether or not the goal or objective has been met.
Overall, I thought this book has a lot of good information regarding teamwork. Too often, probably more than organizations realize or will admit, teamwork seems to be the areas that always need to be improved on. With more employee turnover for many organizations (due to attrition or downsizing) it can be challenging to create a good team. If managers can keep abreast of many of the little things that come into team dynamics, creating an atmosphere of good teamwork can be made easier. Dealing various personality types, work ethics, or individual happiness will always present difficulties for a manager or leader, but with continued focus on the well-being of the overall team, these challenges can be minimized. Not all suggestions may work for everyone, and in my own experience I am a little skeptical of the personality tests and standard team building exercises, but many of the suggestions are easy to achieve if the proper amount of attention is paid to them.