Making Better Teams

In my previous article, Why Teams Fail, I looked at Patrick Lencioni’s seminal work in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, which lays out very clearly five things that ultimately kill teams – absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. Understanding why teams fail is one thing, but making better teams is a whole different endeavor. This is why in the years after Lencioni first published his book in 2002, he was flooded with requests for more practical information on how to actually fix dysfunctional teams. He responded with a concise new offering in 2005, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators. Its 156 pages are packed with the tools and tips anyone can use to give a turbo-boost to their team.

Let me begin with a quick view of what a cohesive team looks like – one that has adequately dealt with the five dysfunctions. The members of the high-performing team you want display the following qualities:

  1. They trust 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.”

How you get there is by beginning with the most central question no one on your team has probably asked: Are we really a team? One way to answer the question would be to take a hard look at your team against the five qualities listed above. Lencioni also offers a more standard written definition of a team:

…a relatively small number of people (anywhere from three to twelve) that shares common goals as well as the rewards and responsibilities for achieving them.  Team members readily set aside their individual or personal needs for the greater good of the group.

Given the team qualities and definition listed above, it should be pretty easy for everyone to see where the team is at and the areas that need improvement. From there you can take advantage of all the team-building activities and exercises Lencioni includes the book. And the good thing here is that you don’t have to be a professional facilitator to do them – they’re very accessible and easy enough for anyone to use. Still, it’s often better to bring in an outside facilitator for this kind of team development work so all members can fully participate.

There are a lot of assessment tools in the book – something that makes a lot of team members roll their eyes, right? But if your team has important outcomes to achieve and its dysfunctions are getting in the way, there’s a lot at stake, and the only way to get there is by knowing where you’re starting from – hence the assessments, which serve as starting points for making better teams.

To address a dysfunctional absence of trust, teams are encouraged to engage in two key trust-building exercises: A Personal Histories Exercise and Behavioral Profiling.

Overcoming the fear of conflict dysfunction is all about the team leader modeling and encouraging conflict, but only with an understanding of the rules of engagement and methods for resolving conflict.

Making better teams almost always involves addressing a dysfunctional lack of commitment by focusing on the two key concepts of buy-in and clarity. Lencioni does not argue for unanimous consensus to achieve buy-in. The idea is for team members to feel confident that their views and opinions have been heard and considered, and that they can and will accept a team decision with which they don’t agree.

The accountability piece of the puzzle involves building a team culture where the most natural thing to do is hold each other accountable to the work of the team, and the vehicle for this is constant and constructive feedback.

Finally, with all of those elements in place, the proper attention to results ought to flow fairly naturally, but still requires a conscious effort to keep the team’s ultimate goals and intended results front-and-center.

One of the great aspects of this book is that Lencioni takes the time to gives some strategies for how to deal with the people who resist or are unwilling to do the work required to address dysfunctions – the necessary effort of making better teams. Any serious effort to build a better team would do well to use this field guide to overcoming team dysfunctions.

February 3, 2017   Updated :February 3, 2017   dysfunctional teams, making better teams, Patrick Lencioni, teams, teamwork   

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