In this second blog in the blog series about teams, we dive into the dysfunctions that make teams go bad.

We all live in a fellow submarine

David Marquet knows a thing or two about leadership. As a Commander in the US Navy, he took over the Santa Fe, the second-lowest rated submarine in the entire fleet.

He recounts a story of relaying an ‘ahead two thirds’ order to his second in command, who then relayed the same order to the responsible mate. Nothing happened. Upon interrogating his second, the officer replied that there was in fact no ‘two-thirds’ setting on the Santa Fe. “Then why did you give the order?” a bemused Marquet asked. The answer: “Because you told me to.”

“If you want people to think, give them intent, not instruction.”

David Marquet

Marquet uses this anecdote to illustrate a point about leadership in his bestselling book ‘Turn The Ship Around.’ He talks about the directionality of power and information, how those at the top of an organisation have all of the authority but the people at the bottom have all of the knowledge. Too many businesses try to push all of the information up, where in fact the best solution is to push authority down. Giving responsibility and accountability for decision-making to people with the best information is always the best way. This is exactly what Marquet did. On the Santa Fe, he refused to ever give another order, instead saying “I intend to travel to X” then letting his crew get on with it. The crew could do their jobs better than he ever could. And lo and behold, the crew went on to be the most highly rated crew, not just that year or not even in ten years, but in U.S. naval history.

So what makes teams go bad?

How do you maintain your good team? Or how do you turn around a bad one? As illustrated by our submarine analogy, when small intra-team dysfunctions get out of control, they can have organisation-wide ramifications. So what are the dysfunctions and how do you identify them? In his 2002 book, consultant and speaker Patrick Lencioni first describes the many pitfalls teams face as they seek to ‘grow together.’

As Lencioni says:
“Successful teamwork is not about mastering subtle, sophisticated theories, but rather about combining common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make teamwork so elusive.”

The five dysfunctions in a team

  1. Absence of trust
    When team members are unable to show their weaknesses; to be vulnerable and open with one another. The absence of trust is a huge waste of time and energy, as team members resort to defensive behaviors, and are reluctant to ask for help from – or assist – each other. Teams can overcome this dysfunction by sharing experiences, demonstrating credibility, and developing strong insight into the unique characteristics of their fellow team members.

  2. Fear of conflict
    Teams that are lacking trust are incapable of having unfiltered, passionate debates about things that matter. This means team members avoid conflict, replacing it with a fake illusion of harmony. In a work setting where team members don’t openly express their opinions, poorer decisions are often the result. When working in teams, conflict is often productive.

  3. Lack of commitment
    Without conflict, it isn’t easy for team members to commit or buy-in to decisions, resulting in an environment where ambiguity prevails. People buy into something when their opinions are included in the decision-making process, and productive teams make joint, transparent decisions in the confidence they have the support of each team member. This is not as much about seeking consensus but making sure everyone is heard.

  4. Avoidance of accountability
    No commitment, no accountability. People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t bought into the plan. In a well-functioning team, it’s the responsibility of each team member to hold one another accountable and accept it when others hold them accountable. Very often, the key to success is being able to measure progress: making clear what the team’s standards are, what needs to be done, by whom and by when.

  5. Inattention to results
    A team can only become results-oriented when all members place the team’s results first. When individuals aren’t held accountable, members naturally tend to look out for their own interests, rather than those of the team. Teams can overcome this dysfunction by making the team results clear and rewarding the behaviors that contribute to the team’s results.

“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.”

Patrick Lencioni

Stay tuned
In our next blog about teams, we’ll explain how simple changes to the environment your team(s) work in, will improve results exponentially.

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