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Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Teamwork is essential in most organizations.  And most organizations, find that their teams exhibit one or more of the five dysfunctions identified by Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In our last installment, we identified the five problems that all teams must overcome.  Today, we’ll share some of Lencioni’s ideas to overcome those issues.Five Dysfunctions Model

Overcoming Dysfunction #1 – Building Trust

Trust can be built and accelerated by using the Personal Histories Exercise and Profiling tools listed below.  The goal is to allow your team members to get to know one another on a more fundamental level so they will know and understand each other’s frame of reference.

Personal Histories Exercise

In a team meeting, have each member of the team describe the following:  the place where they grew up, the number of kids in their family, and the biggest challenge of their childhood.

Profiling Tools

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • DISC
  • Social Style Model
  • Insights
  • Personalysis
  • RightPath Profiles
  • StrengthsFinder

Avoid the Fundamental Attribution Error

The fundamental attribution error is when we attribute others’ negative behaviors to their character (internal attribution) while we attribute our own negative behaviors to our environment (external attribution).

Overcoming Dysfunction #2 – Mastering Conflict

Mastering conflict can be achieved if you are willing to work at it. In order to do this, two assumptions must first be met: (1) we are referring to productive ideological conflict (not personal conflict), and (2) an environment of vulnerability-based trust exists.  Mastering conflict can be accelerated by making sure all team members understand one another’s conflict profile.  Conflict profiles can be determined by using one of the following tools:

  • Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument
  • Depth-Frequency Conflict Model

After ensuring each team member understands the others’ conflict profile, it is important to engage in constructive conflict without crossing over to destructive conflict.  This takes time and practice, but every team has the potential to excel at healthy conflict.

Overcoming Dysfunction #3 – Achieving Commitment

The leader is crucial when it comes to achieving commitment.  The leader must force clarity and closure allowing the team to disagree and commit.  This means that everyone has the freedom to disagree and get their ideas on the table for discussion.  Then, once a final decision is made, everyone on the team must commit to the decision.  It’s important that the leader gives time for commitment clarification so that everyone knows exactly what is being agreed to.

After a decision is made and commitment is achieved, cascading communication ensures that each leader shares the information with their direct reports within twenty-four hours.  This communication is done either face-to-face or on the phone.  Not through email.  This gives team members the chance to ask clarifying questions.

Overcoming Dysfunction #4 – Embracing Accountability

The highest performing teams have peer-to-peer accountability.  Each team member holds the others accountable for their behaviors and results.  Peer-to-peer accountability can be accelerated by conducting a team effectiveness exercise.

Team Effectiveness Exercise

Prior to a team meeting, have each member of the team write down the answers to the questions below for each member of the team.  At the meeting, give each member the feedback starting with the leader.

  • What is the single most important behavioral characteristic or quality demonstrated by this person that contributes to the strength of our team?
  • What is the single most important behavioral characteristic or quality demonstrated by this person that can sometimes hurt the team?

Team Project Status

Another way to improve peer-to-peer accountability is by keeping all members of the team informed about what others are working on through project status updates.  Team members must know what their peers are working on in order to hold them accountable.

Overcoming Dysfunction #5 – Focusing on Results

Once your team has built vulnerability based trust, is comfortable engaging in healthy conflict, can achieve commitment and embraces accountability, you are ready to focus on results.  Here are some easy ways to help your team focus on results:

  • Publicly declare desired results
  • Collectively reward and compensate your team
  • Prioritize the team you are on above the team you lead

By using these simple strategies and engaging in the exercises described, your team can become a highly performing unit.  Remember, teams rarely develop good habits on their own.  They require a lot of work and strong leadership provided by you.  Keep working at it and your team will make great improvements.

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