I'm not sure where I heard about the book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. (He also wrote Death by Meeting, which we reviewed here.) But I'm so glad I found it! I've read it twice. Then I bought the audio book, so I could listen to it while exercising at the YMCA or while driving. Each time I've gone through it, I've learned more.
Applying its principles has changed the way we approach teamwork at IHT.
Why does Teamwork matter? I think the author explains it best in this short video:
As long as we're going to spend so much time at work, why not do it as effectively - and enjoyably - as possible? We've found that we can do both by making some practical adjustments to our thoughts and actions.
I'm not going to rewrite the book here. I highly recommend that you read or listen to it yourself. Several times! But here I'll share with you a few thoughts on his key points.
Why does teamwork fall apart?
1) Absence of Trust
It starts with trust. Or actually, the absence of it. Entire books have been written about trust. One of the best is The Speed of Trust, by Covey. But how is trust related to the success or failure of your team?
For starters, we are not talking about trust in the sense that you know what someone will do in a given situation. Nor is this a "touchy-feely concept that has to do with a company retreat or doing a trust fall.
Rather, trust is related first to knowing that everyone on your team has the best interests of the team at heart. They are not simply jockeying for power or position, or to boost their career or department at the expense of other people.
Second, it has to with being vulnerable. If you operate with trust you're willing to put your ideas out there even if they aren't eventually acted on. You're humble enough to be wrong about things and to admit it when you are.
I can relate to this because in the past I was part of a team whose members didn't really trust each other. I experienced individuals saying one thing in a meeting and then doing the total opposite after the meeting. I didn't believe they really wanted what was best for all of us. They may have felt the same way about me. We weren't willing or able to be vulnerable with each other. And we were less effective than we would have been otherwise.
2) Fear of Conflict
If your team lacks this trust, you won't be able to enjoy productive conflict. Everyone will be afraid of hurting others, or being hurt themselves. Without trust, it is FAR easier to just let small (or large) disagreements pass by. Why try, if the risk seems so great?
Let's pause and define "productive conflict" as openly and honestly sharing different opinions, and even disagreeing, with your team members. This can and should be done with tact and kindness. Being mean or dismissive won't help you or your team to improve.
It shouldn't look like this:
When you don't trust your team members, you become unwilling - or unable - to discuss problems in their true light. You keep things to yourself rather than sharing with your team.
You're afraid to disagree with others because you don't know how they will react. Nor how you will respond if they disagree with your ideas.
This is why so many meetings end up wasting time! Everyone avoids or skirts around the big issues and just passes the time. It's too risky to have someone feel upset at you.
Your team suffers because of it.
One solution is to "mine for conflict" as Lencioni says. Go out of your way to ask people for their thoughts. Be especially sure to do this when you think they disagree with you. It doesn't mean you have to implement every idea. That's impossible.
Instead of shying away, you can "enter the danger" as he explains here:
If everyone on the team can safely share their thoughts and ideas, and listen to those of other team members, you are almost sure to end up with better discussions, ideas and plans than you would if everyone just sat there and didn't participate.
We've found that this kind of productive conflict makes for truly enjoyable, interactive and invigorating meetings.
3) Lack of Commitment
If everyone on the team has been able to "weigh in" they are more likely to "buy in" to whatever choice the team makes.
That's how the first two steps lead to improvement on this third step. Everyone on the team is more inclined to support the final decision because they know they've been heard.
They can commit to getting the job done after the meeting instead of talking with co-workers about what they should have said in the meeting.
We've found that individual commitment naturally follows an open, trust-based discussion.
4) Avoidance of Accountability
We've found that two things improve a team's ability to be accountable to each other.
The first is for every team member to be 100% clear about the things that must be done after the meeting. Everyone knows:
Without clear expectations, no-one can be held accountable - for success, OR for falling short. This clarity is a recurring principle in Lencioni's books.
5) Inattention to results
It's no surprise that if people aren't committed to the goals of the team and don't feel accountable to each other, that they will instead seek to accomplish their own priorities and tasks. It's the natural result of the other four dysfunctions.
In short, the team fails because individuals put themselves, or their department, first.
But if a team has overcome the first four dysfunctions, results will follow. We've seen it ourselves, and I'll tell you when it works, you feel like this:
We don't claim to have this entirely figured out. But it's worked very well for our board, and we're teaching and applying these principles throughout our company.
How about you? Have you experienced these dysfunctions? Have you overcome them?
IHT is a multi-state insurance agency with dozens of branches across the eastern and central United States.