How to Improve Your Team

Over my career, I have been a leader of many different organizations and the one thing that has always made the difference between success and failure has been how well the people on my team worked together toward a common set of goals. So over the years, I became a student of team dynamics from a very practical perspective, ie. what works and what doesn’t.

Recently I read a book entitled “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. Written in the form of a story, it provides the five factors that I have found get in the way of building effective teams which are consistently successful in achieving results. To build a successful team each of these factors needs to be addressed and overcome. And because these elements tend to build upon each other, they mostly need to be addressed in the following order:

1. Absence of Trust

2. Fear of Conflict

3. Lack of Commitment

4. Avoidance of Accountability

5. Inattention to Results

If the people on the team don’t trust each other then it is very difficult to engage in healthy conflict. I’m talking about the kind of discussions which are essential to achieving high caliber results. Teams on which the members don’t trust each other engage in what Lencioni calls “artificial harmony” – on the surface everyone seems to agree, but below the surface there are large unresolved disagreements.

It’s no wonder then, that teams that don’t engage in constructive conflict, which allows everyone to be heard, have a hard time reaching aligned commitments. Team members are permitted to live in a state of ambiguity where commitments are soft and subject to individual interpretation.

As a result of the lack of commitment to team decisions, accountability for each member of the team to do what they signed up to do is low. They don’t hold each other accountable for their contributions to the team and the standards of team performance and behavior become low.

Predictably, the focus on individual status and ego become more important than team results. The team starts to resemble a professional athletic team comprised of individual all-stars, who somehow just can’t win the big games. In a great team the individual egos are subjugated to the collective ego of the team. Individuals may receive recognition, but not at the expense of team results. Collective team results are more important than any individual results.

In his book, Lencioni provides a useful assessment tool to help you determine how your team stacks up relative to the five dysfunctions. He also provides suggestions on how to overcome the dysfunctions. From my experience, I’ve found his suggestions to be extremely effective and this book to be right on the money. If you’re interested in improving the performance of your team, read this book and if you’d like some help, give us a call.