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Team-Building: Identifying & Remedying Team Dysfunction
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Team-Building: Identifying & Remedying Team Dysfunction - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Identifying & Remedying Team Dysfunction

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Identifying & Remedying Team Dysfunction

To identify well-functioning teams, one need only look for the winners, the ones meeting their goals and expectations. Identifying dysfunctional teams means simply looking for teams that aren’t meeting their goals. This is perhaps an oversimplification of a very complicated issue, but it remains true that a dysfunctional team is easy to spot. The challenge is in putting a finger on specific dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors and then doing something about them.

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002), Patrick Lencioni tells the story of a fictional tech company on the verge of breaking through, a company with talented and sought-after executives, ample financial backing, and a product good enough to dominate its field. With all it has going for it, the company can’t seem to get over the hump that could lead to a possible IPO, and a new CEO is brought in to bring back the early momentum and fix whatever the speed-bumps are.

The new CEO sets up a series of team-building retreats, much to the chagrin of her experienced and knowledgeable executive team. Despite the reluctance of these vice-presidents and executive officers, the CEO converts some, allowing others to step off the ship in order to set it right again. As the team buys in to the five dysfunctions she identifies, it overcomes the individual issues of each member and gets back to the path it has set itself.

An absence of trust, a fear of conflict, a lack of commitment, an avoidance of accountability, and an inattention to results: these are Lencioni’s five dysfunctions, and they are evidenced by team members’ refusal to be vulnerable, by artificial harmony among team members, by ambiguity in roles and expectations of its members, by low standards, and by team members’ concern about status and ego above the accomplishments of the team.

“Trust is the foundation of real teamwork. And so the first dysfunction is a failure on the part of team members to understand and open up to one another,” begins Lencioni’s fictional CEO. Addressing each dysfunction not merely as a separate symptom, but as a layer in a pyramid, she demonstrates how one dysfunction leads to the next, and how adjustments in one layer lead to strengthening in others. “Great teams do not hold back with one another,” she says. “They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.

These are the first steps she takes in getting the members of her team working together toward a common benefit: the success of their own company. Once the fictional tale wraps up, Lencioni offers assessments for evaluating a team’s effectiveness, plus bulleted lists describing dysfunctional vs. functional teams. Nowhere in the story is there a blindfolded trust-walk; nor does anyone fall backward off a desk while the others wait to catch him. The author instead offers suggestions for the team leader in addressing each dysfunction, cautioning against certain practices but not ruling anything out.

As with any complicated system, the dynamics of a team of leaders is loaded with variables and uncertainties, each made more complex by the individual needs and wishes of all members, not to mention any personal and professional baggage they carry from past problems, real and imagined. Yet with specifically defined and outlined characteristics of a well-functioning team, an effective leader will have a good understanding of problem areas and how to address them.


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