Achieving Teamwork

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Teamwork is not easy because everyone in the team has to do their part.  If one member messes up his assigned task it will bring down the entire team.  A team is much like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link.  That would mean that your team will only deliver the intended results if the weakest member who has failed to do his or her part in the past, has corrected his or her failures and now has the resolve to be better.  A good book to refer to in making teams perform is the one written by Patrick Lencioni entitled “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”.  Here’s a summary of the book.

The author enumerates the five common causes why a team would fail.  First, because of selfishness.  It’s when team members or even the team leader care more about their personal results instead of the team’s results for recognition or fame.  If it were a basketball game a certain player would want to play hero and would persist in shooting the game winning shot even if he is guarded by two opposing players instead of passing it to an open teammate.  Second, team members lose sight of the team’s results because team members don’t hold each other accountable.  Or it’s just every man for himself.  Third, there is a lack of commitment to the results because team members were not so much involved in the decision making.  Fourth, the reason why there’s not much involvement in the decision making is caused by team members who are afraid to challenge the leader’s decision or disagreeing with other team members.  And fifth, there’s lack of trust because team members are afraid of differences in decision making because the boss or any other member of the team might take opposing views personally and get angry.

The following approaches are the author’s solution to the five dysfunctions:

Establish Vulnerability-Based Trust

In answer to team’s dysfunction number five, the team needs a trust building exercise.  Team members should take turns openly acknowledging a weakness that could hurt the team and a strength that will help the team succeed. The boss might take the lead and show his or her team it’s ok to be vulnerable. He or she might say, “My technical skills aren’t strong, but I believe that my ability to find new customers and sell products will help this team succeed.”

When you as the leader or your teammates are transparent about your faults, you take down the veil of perfection and allow open and honest feedback to find its way into team discussions.

Encourage Healthy Conflict

The solution to dysfunction number four is to encourage healthy conflict in meetings by creating a ‘Team Engagement Charter’ that promotes candid, passionate debate. Have your teammates sign it and bring it to every meeting.  Sample ‘Team Engagement Charter’: “We will address conflict‐laden issues and sort out disagreements with passionate debate. When discussing team issues, we will not withhold commentary on what could help us bring out the best decision on any issue.”

Earn Commitment

For dysfunction number 3, get team members to buy‐in to your decisions by allowing them to participate and feel heard during team planning sessions.  Here’s what the author says about this solution, “I’ve come to understand that most people don’t really need to have their ideas adopted (a.k.a. “get their way”) in order to buy in to a decision. They just want to have their ideas heard, understood, considered, and explained within the context of the ultimate decision.”

If you are the leader and some team members might disagree to your suggestion but nevertheless you want to try it out, make the team members commit to it by saying, “I’m not saying you’re wrong, but since we don’t have all the information, are you willing to gamble with me on this? Can we disagree and commit so we can move fast and get feedback?”

Foster Peer‐to‐Peer Accountability

For dysfunction number two, show your teammates it’s ok to hold every team member (even those of higher status) accountable, by allowing every team member to host weekly status meetings. During a weekly status meeting, the host goes around the room and asks every team member, “Did you do what you said you were going to do last week? And if not, why not?” When everyone sees a junior team member question a senior team member, a new standard of team accountability is set.

Focus on Team Results

And lastly for dysfunction number one, keep the team focused on team results (instead of individual results) by connecting personal rewards to team results. For example, team members only receive an extra day off at the end of the month if the team hits its monthly target. Team rewards remind team members that if the team doesn’t win, no one wins.  No one should be happy unless everyone is succeeding which is tied to the team result.