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Building Teams

Thursday 18 October, 2007
by Capital H Group
You can't buy a great team. You can invest in talented people and the best equipment, but an effective team can only be created through the courage and discipline of the team members.

Building a successful team is surely one of the great mysteries of our time - whether in sports, business or other endeavours that bring people together. Why are some teams successful and others not? Why do some teams outperform others, even when they don't have as much individual talent? What is the secret to building a strong team?

A great model (and a tool we often use) is Patrick Lencioni's book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team". In it, Lencioni provides a new model for building a team, that we've seen bring excellent results for our clients.

The five factors that prevent genuine teamwork, according to Lencioni, are:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

Whether you are on a team, or leading a team, you've most likely had one or more of these issues prevent peak performance at one time or another. If one of these dysfunctions is allowed to flourish, teamwork deteriorates. Lencioni turns these dysfunctions upside down to create a model for building a truly cohesive team.

  1. Trust

    To build a team, trust means that each member is confident that their peers' intentions are good and that there's no reason to be overly-protective around the group. Team-mates should be comfortable in being vulnerable with one another.

    Yes, vulnerable. A word not often used in a business context. Vulnerability-based trust allows others to see your weaknesses. This may run counter to everything you believe.

    In the course of career advancement and education, most of us in a corporate environment learn to be competitive and overly-protective of our reputations. We're used to covering up deficiencies and mistakes. Even asking for help is something to be avoided.

    It is a challenge to turn these self-centered behaviours into team-oriented behaviours, but Lencioni's model teaches that understanding and respecting each of our vulnerabilities, and trusting that they won't be used against us, is really the first step to building a great team.
  2. Embracing conflict

    Productive conflict is necessary to produce the best possible solution in the shortest possible time. Ironically, if you hold back conflicting thoughts, you're actually creating tension, which becomes the proverbial "elephant in the room" that nobody mentions.

    When team members do not openly debate and disagree about important ideas, they often turn to hallway conversations and back-channel personal attacks which are more harmful than any heated argument over legitimate issues. The bottom line, is that a great team requires productive conflict in order to deal with issues and continue to grow.
  3. Creating commitment

    Once individuals on a team work through the conflict, great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team (even those who may have initially opposed the decision). Team members leave meetings confident that no one on the team is quietly harboring doubts about whether to support agreed-upon actions.
  4. Accountability

    Accountability is a buzzword that is used frequently in business today. In the context of teamwork, however, accountability refers specifically to the willingness of team members to "call" their peers on performance or behaviours that might be harmful to the team.

    The most effective and efficient way to maintain high standards of performance on a team is to establish agreed upon standards, and then allow team members to hold each other accountable. More than any policy or system, there is nothing like the anxiety of letting down respected team-mates that motivates people to follow through, and to improve their performance.
  5. Attention to results

    This sounds obvious, but what we're talking about here is team results, not individual results. An unrelenting focus on specific team objectives and clearly defined outcomes is a requirement for high-performing teams.

    For many teams, results can be measured in financial terms - profit, or revenue, or shareholder return. But for many others, the results are often measured by other terms, like outcome-based performance against pre-determined standards.
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