We All Work In Teams But Do Our Teams Really Work?

Despite all the team building activities undertaken over the years, many teams at work don’t function as well as they could.  That’s fine if you don’t rely on anyone else to get your work done, but for many of us it’s a problem.

The advantages of a good team include:

  • improved information sharing
  • better decisions, performance and outcomes
  • higher employee motivation and engagement


Traditional team building methods might include an off-site day where members fall into each other’s arms (trust), construct models with paper and tape or solve problems involving ropes and planks.  While this makes for a fun day with great stories to tell at the end, that’s where it ends… at the end of the day.

Activities like this don’t address the core issues that plague groups when they’re not performing at their best.  The problem goes deeper and first requires the team to address and alleviate any dysfunctions that may be holding them back.  Patrick Lencioni identifies five of the most common in his exceptional book – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

  1. The Absence of Trust
  2. The Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

I have used these insights when developing high-performing teams and have witnessed first-hand the power of Lencioni’s thinking.  Where do you and your team rate on the following?

  1. The Absence of Trust: Trust is more than just knowing your team mates or being able to predict their responses or behaviours.  It goes beyond liking them or trusting them on a personal level.  Trusting a team member is knowing they will do what they say they will do consistently, it is knowing you can always rely on them and that they are dedicated to the team’s well-being and objectives.  Trust is at the heart of an effective team and where trust is not present, team performance suffers.  How well do you trust your team members?
  1. The Fear of Conflict:  Teams that avoid confrontation and who don’t regularly work through contentious issues will not be working at full capacity.  Conflict is a highly productive way to work through problems, address issues and create high quality solutions.  The key is to know HOW to do this in a constructive way.  It is an essential skill for teams to develop but requires practice and agreed ‘rules of engagement’ to guide the process.  Teams that can thrash out their differences and enter into robust debate will always out-perform those that don’t.  How does your team rate?
  1. Lack of Commitment:  Commitment in this context means both clarity and buy-in.  In high-performing teams everyone knows what it is they have to achieve and why.  Decisions and actions are clearly laid out and everyone commits to the plan.  This doesn’t mean everyone needs to agree!  When considering decisions and making plans, teams will typically have opposing opinions and points of view.  Great teams let members voice their differences and argue their case in the knowledge that we all see things differently.  This is not about gaining consensus, which is often unrealistic, but about respecting individual contributions.  Using robust discussion, a team takes all the available information, makes a decision and moves forward.  Once made, individuals then put aside their egos and back the team decision with 100% commitment.  There is no room for dissent in a top team.  How committed are members to your team decisions?
  1. Avoidance of Accountability:  The best teams’ members are willing to call their peers on performance or behaviours that might hurt the team.  It may not sound politically correct but peer group pressure is an excellent way to ensure high standards of performance.  There is nothing like the fear of letting down respected team mates to motivate a person to improve their performance.  Accountability of this nature reduces resentment between members and avoids a culture of mediocrity.  It also decreases bureaucracy as regrettably holding others to account is all too often left to the team leader.  How well do your team members hold one another to account?
  1. Inattention to Results:  The ultimate dysfunction is the tendency of team members to care about something other than the collective goals of the team.  An unrelenting focus on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes is a requirement for any team that judges itself on performance.  A team that puts its energy into achieving collective goals will progress and improve at a far greater rate than those that don’t.  A team working together will minimise individualistic behaviour and keep the group more closely aligned with company ambitions.  What’s your level of attention to your team’s results?

To build a great team and enjoy all the benefits of a high performance not only requires addressing the dysfunctions listed here but also creating the right structures, roles and responsibilities (including the leader’s) and outlining team objectives.

I have worked with many teams from front-line through to the executive and would welcome the opportunity to work with yours. Please feel free to contact me about anything written here or to run a quick ‘Team Health Check’ to see how your team is functioning currently.

Warmest regards

Geoff Wake

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