Your team is dysfunctional.
I know that’s a bold statement, but it’s true. I’ve been a member of countless teams over the years, none of which were 100% functional, all the time, across all domains of team function. Which means that some of the time, to some degree, they were dysfunctional.
And the problem’s not the dysfunction, it’s that all too often we either ignore the dysfunction or don’t even recognize that it exists.
What kind of dysfunctions? Anyone familiar with the work of Patrick Lencioni should be familiar with his “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. In a nutshell, teams suffer in the following ways;
Lack of Trust. Not the kind of trust that you think you need (you know, the “let’s fall into each other’s arms off a picnic table” kind of trust). We’re talking about professional vulnerability, the ability to say “I don’t know” or “I totally dropped the ball on that” and not worry about being judged by your boss or coworkers.
Fear of Conflict. Nobody likes conflict. At least, no one who is relatively psychologically healthy. And so most of us (myself included) end up trying to avoid conflict where we can. What is usually a healthy strategy for self preservation becomes toxic to team culture when you’re not willing to disagree or debate with your teammates. You shouldn’t embrace conflict for the sake of it, but healthy teams require healthy conflict, the kind of conflict that is about strategies and ideas to pursue for your organization’s strategic goals.
Lack of Commitment. What, exactly, are we committing to do here? If you haven’t experienced healthy conflict around the table, chances are you don’t have total agreement on what’s being decided upon. You might have people’s heads nodding up and down, but in the back of their mind they’re probably thinking “yeah, but…”. It’s those “yeah, buts” that lead people to either half-heartedly commit to your strategy, or nod in agreement while covertly going about their own agendas.
Avoidance of Accountability. From the smallest things (being on time and prepared for meetings) to the biggest (delivering on the organization’s strategic priorities), teams that don’t have good accountability mechanisms simply don’t get the job done. The type of accountability that the highest teams have is interpersonal, peer-peer accountability. Not the kind that demands a heavy-handed manager, but the kind that everyone performs because they don’t want to let each other down.
Inattention to Results. What are you actually accomplishing? What are the collective results that your team is after? Notice I emphasized collective. All too often, team goals are fuzzy (at best) or non-existent, a loose compilation of department and individual goals. If a team doesn’t have collective goals, it shouldn’t exist. Full stop.
How do you deal with these dysfunctions? You can start by looking for them. At your next meeting, listen for voices of dissent or challenge. Chances are that if you don’t hear them, your team is suffering from a fear of conflict. The more important the topic…the more important the presence of healthy conflict. We start with the first two (trust & vulnerability and conflict), and then move on to the next when those are functioning a bit better.