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Teamwork people

4 min read

How To Overcome Team Dysfunctions

30 second summary:

Increasingly in our complex business contexts, teamwork is essential for high performance and workplace productivity. Yet it isn’t easy to build effective never mind high performance teams .Based on our previous article on ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone explores five actionable steps that you will want to use to address team challenges.

In my previous article, I shared “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by renowned author Patrick Lencioni.

I mentioned a list of five behaviours that left uncorrected lead to team under-performance.

These five factors, which if we are honest we have seen at  times in our different teams, are

(1) absence of trust, (2) fear of conflict, (3) lack of commitment, (4) avoidance of accountability and (5) inattention to results.

Lencioni outlines a powerful model and practical actionable steps that can be used to overcome these common hurdles and build cohesive, effective teams. 

1. Build trust    

How does a team go about building trust? The kind of trust that is characteristic of a great team requires team members to make themselves vulnerable to one another. This in turn requires team members to be confident that their respective vulnerabilities will not be used against them.

Vulnerabilities include weaknesses, skill deficiencies, mistakes and personal recognition of the need for help. Unfortunately, trust cannot be achieved overnight.

For trust to develop the team must invest in shared experiences and an in-depth understanding of the unique strengths and weaknesses of each team members.

However, by taking a focused approach, a team can accelerate the process towards high team performance. Lencioni suggests the following:

  • Organise a team-effectiveness exercise. As part of this exercise, ask each team member to identify the single most important contribution that each of their fellow team-members makes to the team, and the one area in which they must personally improve or eliminate for the good of the team.
  • Use a personality and behavioral-preference profiler such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to increase personal self-awareness and understanding of the impact each has on others.
  • Encourage the leader to “go first”, to demonstrate vulnerability in a way that is authentic. In so doing, team leaders create an environment that recognises without punishing vulnerability. 

2. Engage in constructive conflict

Teams that engage in productive conflict around ideas know that the most positive purpose of conflict is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period.

Teams that engage in productive conflict discuss and resolve issues more quickly and completely than other teams do, and they emerge from heated debates without collateral damage, with readiness to take on the next important issue.

How does a team go about developing this ability and willingness to engage in healthy conflict?

  • The leader must acknowledge that conflict is productive and that many teams have a tendency to avoid it. As long as some team members believe that conflict is unnecessary, there is little chance that conflict will be engaged with positively.
  • Members of teams that tend to avoid conflict must surface buried disagreements with the team to shed light on and resolve them.
  • Team members need to be encouraged to engage, not retreat, from healthy debate.
  • Team leaders need to demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict, and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as this can sometimes be.

3. Ensure commitment

How does a team go about ensuring commitment? A few simple but effective tools and principles:

  • At the end of staff meetings, invite the team to explicitly review key decisions made during the meeting and agree on what needs to be communicated to employees about those decisions.
  • Use clear deadlines for making decisions and respect those dates with discipline.
  • Clarify the worst-case scenario for major decisions the team is struggling to make and agree on the contingency plan.
  • The leader must constantly push the group for closure around issues.

4. Ensure accountability 

Members of great teams improve their relationships by holding themselves as individuals and one another accountable, demonstrating that they respect each other and have high expectations for one another’s performance.

Adherence to a few classic management tools will make a real difference:

  • Clarify publicly exactly what the team needs to achieve, who needs to deliver what and by when, and how everyone must behave in order to succeed.
  • Team members must regularly communicate transparently and directly with one another about how they feel they and their teammates are doing against stated objectives and standards.
  • Reward structures must be shifted away from individual performance and toward team achievement

  5. Focus on results    

How does a team ensure that its attention is focused on results?

  • Perhaps more than with any of the other dysfunctions, the leader must set the tone for a focus on results. If team members sense that the leader values anything other than results, they will take that as permission to do likewise.
  • Teams that are willing to commit publicly to specific results are more likely to work with passionate desire to achieve those results.
  • Team leaders must reserve rewards and recognition for those who make real contributions to achieving group goals.

The reality remains that teamwork ultimately comes down to practicing a small set of principles over a period of time. Success is not a matter of mastering theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human.

By acknowledging their imperfections, team members overcome their natural tendencies that make trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and a focus on results so elusive.

Take some time to discuss at your next team meeting how you as a team can develop into a high-performing team and which factors in this article are most relevant towards that aim.   Jim Rathbone is the Managing Director of Rathbone Results. Contact him at jim@rathboneresults.com

Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone

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