January 02, 2019
The Dynamics of Team
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I’m very inspired after reading ‘The Five Dysfunctions of Team’ by Patrick Lencioni. After reading the book, it struck me that there aren’t too many teams in the corporate world that achieve the level of team success described in the book. I finished the book at about the same time that the SF Giants were playing in the world series this year. That team strikes me as one that has been able to achieve strong team dynamics. While the Giants don’t have many superstars on their team, bound together, they are a superstar team.
At the heart of the book are the five dysfunctions of a team, and the results or behavior that stems from those dysfunctions.
The dysfunctions are the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.
In order to achieve the highest level of team effectiveness, either at the executive level or in an individual department, the team has to work together to develop the skills to address the dysfunctions. The importance of focusing on these skills is that a team can function much more effectively as a unit than each individual can function on their own. See the SF Giants as an example of that.
Most employees at work feel that they’re working effectively if they put their head down, achieve their individual results and bring their paycheck home. Many don’t tie their individual work to departmental or corporate goals, and may not work towards the continuous improvement necessary to achieve greater results.
Turning the dysfunctions into specific team skills can be achieved through exercises recommended in the book. It is a focused and largely continuous process.
What I wanted to focus on in this article are the skills that need to be attained in order to achieve a highly functioning team. The basic foundation is trust. Do you trust your colleagues to perform their work effectively? Do you trust them to contribute to the overall success of the team and the company? Do you believe that they have the skills necessary to do their job? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Trusting your team members enough to discuss those strengths and weaknesses allows the team to bolster individual’s weaknesses with others’ strengths.
Avoidance of conflict has become a norm in the business world, particularly in the technology field. Many are focused on defeating the competition or achieving their personal best. Artificial harmony, where team members are unwilling to call each other out about a lack of agreement on methods, task prioritization or plans doesn’t lead to cohesion, but to silos. Typically, the team members that disagree focus on their own method, task or plan, and not a mutually agreed upon one. Silos are the enemy of teams. The important skill to develop here is the ability to discuss areas of disagreement with respect. Then, once the team comes to a mutual decision, all members of the team must agree to work to uphold that decision and deliver on that task.
It’s also important that a team has common goals, and that they are clear to the group. It’s best to reiterate those goals repeatedly and ensure that all team members are clear. Those goals translate to specific tasks that must have clear owners. Members of the team need to hold each other accountable to those tasks and goals. If employees are unwilling to hold one another accountable, that translates to a lack of confidence in others being able to perform their role. When team members aren’t confident in their co-workers, that can lead to employees covering for one another, which means that they are not likely to succeed in delivering their work. This is a vicious cycle. Another potential side effect of team members not holding one another accountable is that tasks can linger and not be delivered. Progress is stymied.
The silos that can result from the lack of a cohesive plan can lead to a culture of individual ‘heros.’ When individuals are focused on their own work, or their own goals, and deliver results exclusive of the team, they are often seeking to be superstars, and are more concerned about their own status. In an organization without a clear direction, individuals will often determine their own roles or deliverables. If individuals are given clear direction and still continue this behavior, then they’re not participating members of the team and should be coached. In extreme cases, they will need to leave the team. Often, organizations reward these ‘superstars’ with awards or promotions when it should be more focused on the team results.
Being a member of a high functioning team isn’t just rewarding from a work satisfaction basis, but is very personally rewarding. Employees feel supported; it can feel very familiar and encouraging. Delivering on your own goals and tasks when everyone around you is also delivering allows the team to achieve more as a whole. When an employee realizes that they can turn to a team member for help or advice, and are also available in that same capacity for others, this creates a very symbiotic and effective dynamic.
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