How To Avoid Dysfunction In Your Team

The importance of having a great team around you in your organisation can be reduced to one key term – Synergy. It is the concept that intercommunication and cooperation between members of a team have the capacity to produce an aggregate output greater than the sum of their individual inputs. Working together in a productive team environment, therefore, paves the way for enhanced productivity and the optimisation of long-term yield. It is because of these potential gains resulting from a state of synergy that priority must be given to creating and maintaining a strong team setting within your organisation.

Below are five interrelated pitfalls, as outlined by Patrick Lencioni in his best-selling business fable The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which teams often stumble into which prevent them from maximising their potential as a unified and constructive entity.  

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1) Absence of Trust

"Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they're doing it because they care about the team" - Patrick Lencioni

Trust is the bedrock that a team is built upon. Individuals within the team often have a fear of vulnerability, which prevents mutual trust from being built between members of the team. It is this susceptibility to negative exposure within the team that must be overcome in order to establish trust. Trust isn’t something that can just be attained at will, but something that requires plenty of time and shared experiences. Nor is trust within a team something that can be completed; there is always room for growth and it must be sustainable in the long-run.

2) Fear of Conflict

“When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer” - Patrick Lencioni

Conflict is an inevitable consequence when a team is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and specialities – as any worthwhile team should. Individuals within a team are often eager to avoid conflict in the pursuit of peace. On its surface, this seems favourable, but in actuality it only serves as a means to silencing healthy debate and the productive upshots which accompany it. Constructive conflict requires a level of trust between team members; they must understand that although it can at times be awkward, the benefits of an open discussion and the thorough interrogation of ideas means that this anxiety must be overcome to take full advantage of them.  

3) Lack of Commitment

“If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in” - Patrick Lencioni

If team members are not invested individually in the projects the team is undertaking, they will not be committed to perusing them. This is why healthy conflict and debate is so fundamental in creating an individual commitment to the team. If every member has had the ability to actively participate in the decision-making process, they will be more committed to prioritising the tasks at hand and seeing them through to the end. There will be a greater alignment of the team around their common goals, providing more clarity as to the direction the individuals within the team should be working towards.

4) Avoidance of Accountability

"Teams have to eliminate ambiguity and interpretation when it comes to success" - Patrick Lencioni

Team members are often hesitant to hold one another accountable for their actions and inactions due to the uncomfortable conflicts which can arise. This fear must be overcome in order to create a culture of accountability, which must run consistently through all level of the team’s hierarchy. Accountability for one’s actions and a desire not to let peers down serves as a strong motivator, much more so than any fear of discipline. Team leaders must lead by example and be able to confront challenging issues of accountability within their team in a direct and productive way.

5) Inattention to Results

“If everything is important, then nothing is” - Patrick Lencioni

To be a successful team, members must have the desire and ability to prioritise team success over their own individual accomplishment. This requires accountability to keep all team members focused on the pursuit of the agreed upon goals and direction of the team. Without this accountability, efforts will shift to focusing on individual pursuits at the expense of the collective success of the team as a whole.

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So, what should you do?

Avoiding every one of these pitfalls individually is paramount in creating and sustaining an effective team, and much like the synergy which occurs when all members of a team work together cohesively, the combination of evading all five together leads to a greater effect on the unitedness of the team than they otherwise would independently. Team managers must make it a priority to not only not avoid falling into these unproductive and very costly traps, but actively seek to counter them in order to fully utilise their team in setting and accomplishing their goals.