A crazy co-worker of mine once said, “Teamwork is essential – it allows you to blame someone else.” Although we had a good laugh, both parts of that statement are true.
Teamwork is essential for organizational success – make no mistake about it. It’s also vital for your personal success. You can’t have one without the other. Whether your team is a small group or a large department, or you’re part of a sports team or volunteering with a community-based alliance, effective teamwork can be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be.
To excel in a high-performing team, the key is to understand how teamwork works. That might sound funny, but even the most seasoned team leaders and team players often don’t completely understand the dynamics of effective teamwork. Many of us simply default to our team instinct, what we know based on our experiences. However, if you want to build your teamwork intellect, then it’s important to recognize the more you learn about teamwork, the better you and your team will become.
One of the best places to start building your teamwork intellect is with the preeminent expert on teamwork, Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni wrote the best-selling book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which is recognized as one of the most effective team models and which will, if implemented correctly, take your team from good to great.
Don’t think of a dysfunctional team as a group of people who simply can’t get it together or are doomed to fail. Dysfunction can range from slight misalignment to complete ineffectiveness. It’s important to know that the best teams all have the potential for some form of dysfunction, but if you understand team dynamics, you can get back on track a lot quicker.
With Lencioni’s model in mind, here are the five dysfunctions and five ways to conquer them.
1. Absence of trust
This occurs when team members refuse to or only reluctantly admit mistakes or weaknesses, or avoid asking for help. By not showing vulnerability, a level of mistrust will permeate the team and break down the foundation and most essential element of effective teamwork – trust.
How to conquer: Trusting team members admit their mistakes and weaknesses and have no problem asking for help. They also appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences. No one is perfect, so encourage your team members to embrace the imperfections of themselves and others.
2. Fear of conflict
Teams lacking in trust can’t engage in passionate, unfiltered debate on team issues. When team members can’t speak with candour, a feeling of artificial harmony exists and real issues can’t be resolved. Harmony is great if it’s authentic, but artificial harmony can be disastrous if it prevents people from speaking up.
How to conquer: Teams who embrace conflict will air their opinions openly. Remove personal attacks and back-channel politics and real issues will be resolved quickly and respectfully. Watch how lively your meetings become when all team members engage in constructive conflict.
3. Lack of commitment
Without conflict, it’s extremely difficult for team members to commit. Unresolved issues create an environment of ambiguity. That can lead to second-guessing, lack of confidence and fear of failure among team members.
How to conquer: Create clarity around direction and priorities. That can be tough if points one and two are in play, but when a team is aligned and committed around common objectives, great things will happen.
4. Absence of accountability
When teams can’t commit to a plan of action, even the best team members become disengaged. Team members who are not committed often create resentment among those who are, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
How to conquer: Make sure to hold poor performers to the same standard as those who are committed to the objectives. Members of great teams don’t hesitate to identify potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches or motivations.
5. Inattention to results
Nothing will drag down results more than team members who put their own personal agendas and egos ahead of the team’s. This is how silos are created in organizations and it most often results from a me-first attitude.
How to conquer: Team members must focus on the collective results over personal gratitude or recognition. That’s tough to do if there’s an absence of accountability, so make sure team goals are first and foremost on everybody’s mind.
Building your team intellect is about progress, not perfection. Practice makes permanent, so the more you know and apply, the more effective your team will become.
I’m not sure where you see yourself and your team within this model, but since we started with a great quote let’s end it with another one: “You can’t see the picture when you’re in the frame.”
I’m not sure who said it, but I do know if we step back and take a good honest look at ourselves and our teams, we’ll see some common-sense ways to become even more effective.
More tips for building a strong team:
- Bridging the gap in multi-generational teams
- Seven things that bosses need to know
- Seven things your boss wants you to know