Let’s take some time to talk about human beings and teams … sports teams, corporate teams … individual contributors, and managers.

How can one identify a dysfunctional team? And how do you start addressing the issues if you cannot articulate them?

  1. Absence of trust
    • Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust
  2. Fear of conflict
    • Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in an unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.
  3. Lack of commitment
    • Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, by in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.
  4. Avoidance of accountability
    • Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.
  5. Inattention to results
    • Occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team.

Now let’s imagine how members of truly cohesive teams behave (if this sounds simple, it’s because it is simple, at least in theory):
1. They rust one another
2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas
3. They commit to decisions and plans of action
4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans
5. They focus on the achievement of collective results

The role of the Leader

  1. Absence of trust
    1. Demonstrate vulnerability first (must be genuine and not staged – do not manipulate the emotions of others)
    2. Create an environment that does not punish vulnerability
  2. Fear of conflict
    1. It is key that leaders demonstrate restraint to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be
    2. By avoiding conflict when it is necessary and productive a team leader will encourage this dysfunction to thrive
  3. Lack of commitment
    1. The leader must be comfortable with the prospect of making a decision that ultimately turns out to be wrong
    2. What the leader cannot do is place too high a premium on certainty or consensus
  4. Avoidance of accountability
    1. The leader must be willing to serve as the ultimate arbiter of discipline when the team itself fails. (this should be a rare occurrence)
    2. It must be clear to all team members that accountability has not been relegated to a consensus approach, but merely to a shared team responsibility and that the leader of the team will not hesitate to step in when it is necessary
  5. Inattention to results
    1. The leader must set the focus on results
    2. Team leaders must be selfless and objective, and reserve rewards and recognition for those who make real contributions to the achievement of the group goals

Inside the book, there’s a fictional story about some characters that do their best to work as a team. At some point the fictional leader uses the following quote in a meeting with the team :
“Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”

How would you approach a dysfunctional team? Did the quotes and the book advice worked in making your team function better?

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