A Consultant's View

Prairie Trail Software, Inc. ............................................................. August 2008

Do you have a functioning team?

Patrick M. Lencioni's book on team building, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team", has a few good quotes. Allow me to start off with a couple.

"Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is powerful and so rare."
"A friend of mine, the founder of a company that grew to a billion dollars in annual revenue, best expressed the power of teamwork when he once told me, 'If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time."

In an interview with Fast Company, Hatim Tyabji (former CEO of VeriFone) talks about the efforts needed to lead a team. It is not easy getting people to pull in the same direction. He mentions that it takes up to 12 times of pushing on something to get the desired movement.

So, what kinds of things get in the way of having a powerful team? Lencioni's book lists five dysfunctions:

1. The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. This stems from an unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. 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. This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

3. A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team member rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.

4. Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. 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. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. 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.

Notice that all of these are people's reactions to the situation rather than something that a manager can directly control. The only one that a manager can control is what drives the first dysfunction: whether or not it is safe to be vulnerable about mistakes. When it is not safe to have mistakes, it is impossible to have a team. Just ask the coach of any professional sports team.