Effective teams achieve high quality results quickly and efficiently. They hold each other accountable and are committed to a well-defined common goal. They aren’t afraid to engage in healthy conflict and they have a foundation of trust between each other.
The book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni is a classic when it comes to this subject. All of the information in this blog post can be accredited to an interpretation (or summary) of that book and I highly recommend reading the book itself if this subject interests you!
The book takes this subject and flips it on it’s head - looking instead at what makes a team dysfunctional (or ineffective). By looking at what makes a team ineffective, we can better understand what makes a team effective.
The book states that there are five dysfunctions that cause a team to underperform where each one builds on the one before it. For example, without trust you cannot have healthy conflict, and without conflict, you cannot have commitment, etc…
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- Absence of Trust
- Fear of Conflict
- Lack of Commitment
- Avoidance of Accountability
- Inattention to Results
We can examine what makes a team highly effective by looking closer at each one of these.
Trust is the foundation for an effective team. When team members don’t trust each other, they don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable with the group. Team members that lack trust have a fear of speaking up within the team which causes them to avoid conflict and become disengaged.
Your team might have an absence of trust if…
- Team members hesitate to ask for help.
- Team members are holding grudges against other team members.
How do you build trust?
- Trust is built naturally over time and strengthened by hardships that the group faces together. It doesn’t happen overnight.
- Some ways to fast track gaining trust include - team building exercises, off-site meetings, show and tells, etc…
Without trust, healthy conflict cannot occur.
Healthy conflict is necessary for any team to thrive. When any member on a team is afraid to speak up and voice their opinion - they don’t. This leads to artificial harmony, which is the idea that things seem to be going well, but it’s only because you’re not hearing the opinions of the people who think otherwise.
Your team might fear conflict if…
- Meetings are boring
- Ideas and decisions are never challenged.
- Debates about decisions turn into personal attacks.
How do you encourage healthy conflict?
- Acknowledge that conflict is productive and shouldn’t be avoided.
- Make it clear that it’s the problems the team is attacking, not each other.
- This becomes more natural to a team as trust is built.
A fear of conflict leads to a lack of commitment towards the groups common goal.
A team that is committed to a well-defined common goal is already a step ahead in achieving that goal. Likewise, a team that lacks commitment will likely fail.
A lack of commitment usually happens due to ambiguity. That is, uncertainty of the path forward due to lack of clarity or lack of group buy-in for the path forward to achieve the teams’ common goal.
Your team might lack commitment if…
- The team is revisiting discussions and decisions again and again.
- Team members seem disengaged and uninterested in important decisions.
How do you build commitment?
- Define a clear path forward at the end of meetings.
- Give everyone the chance to voice their opinions.
- Even when a team member disagrees with the outcome, they commit.
- This will improve as the team learns to have healthy conflict.
A team that lacks commitment will also avoid accountability.
Accountability is when team members feel a responsibility to call people out when they’re not pulling their weight. When team members don’t call out other team members, it can lead to that team having low standards. As a result, mediocrity and poor performance becomes acceptable on the team.
Your team might be avoiding accountability if…
- The team is missing deadlines and key deliverables.
- The team leader is the sole source of discipline.
How do you improve accountability?
- Daily status meetings where team members are held accountable to what they commit to.
- This will improve as the team feels more committed to the common goal.
More accountability leads to higher standards, which leads to more effective results.
Results refer to making progress towards or achieving the teams’ common goal. An inattention to results, meaning that the team members prioritize something other than the collective goals of the group, will likely lead to ineffective results.
Inattention to results is commonly caused by status and ego. In other words, the idea that an individuals goals are more important than the groups goals.
Your team might have an inattention to results if…
- Achievement oriented employees are leaving the team.
- Individuals with big egos are regularly distracting the team from collective goals.
How do you promote a focus on team results?
- Tie individual rewards to team results. For example, if the team hits the monthly target, everyone gets a day off at the end of the month. Of course, this isn’t to say that individual rewards should be ignored.
Ineffective teams are usually lacking in one of the traits mentioned above - and hence any trait that’s listed after it.
It’s important to remember that we’re all human. It takes time for team members to develop trust and therefore takes time for a team to become highly effective.
By focusing in on what’s making the team ineffective, the team can choose to improve upon that and become a highly effective team.
“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni