Building A Winning Team – Making Decisions Stick

Many leaders complain that they hate to go to meetings because they are non-productive. It is common to find that decisions taken at meetings do not stick.

Instead, group decisions at meetings become the subjects of post-meeting lobbying. Some team members call separate meetings to try to filibuster the decision. Others take a passive-aggressive approach, deciding to hope the decision goes away. In most organizations the latter approach works best because accountability is limited – by not doing your part, you might get a slap on the wrist in the worst-case scenario. In the end, the company loses precious time and money.

The above issues are found in varying degrees in every organization. Pat Lencioni has really captured this well in his book, “Five Dysfunctions of A Team”. This leadership fable identifies team behavioral factors that will reduce the results in your company. I think the book is a must-read for any organization that depends on teamwork to make money.

Company teams come in various forms. It starts with an executive team to run the company. Then it takes teamwork to: create loyal customers; deliver your product or service; manufacture your products; ship your products; execute a special project; and so on. The more employees and customers you have, the more complicated this gets because you need more teams, and each employee may have to play on more than one team.

I will give you a snapshot of the key issues I took away from the book, and then I want to encourage you to read the book for yourself. I believe that by addressing the five dysfunctions Pat Lencioni identifies, you will find that the decisions you make in your company will stick. The dysfunctions work in a pyramid, just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you have not addressed lower level need with an individual, it is futile to address the next level need. Pat’s five dysfunctions are as follows:

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

Absence of trust, the first dysfunction, is the hardest to overcome. It starts with the premise that one must have confidence among team members, believe that one’s peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be careful around group members. In most teams, too much time and energy, and too many good ideas are wasted trying to protect one’s reputation by managing behaviors, comments, and interactions because of a lack of trust that was created in previous interactions. People are reluctant to ask for help and to offer assistance to others, causing lower morale and unwanted turnover. To address this dysfunction, a leader must demonstrate vulnerability first, and make sure this is genuine. Leaders must encourage open dialogue in meetings, look for situations where people engage in behavior that demonstrates lack of trust, and bring it out in the open. They need to have everyone openly discuss the strength each team member brings to the team. They also need to describe the behaviors that lead them to be distrustful and get them to address those behaviors. No one, including the CEO, is immune from this exercise. One bad apple will spoil the batch.

Fear of conflict is the second dysfunction. Addressing the first dysfunction makes it much easier to address the second. If the first exercise succeeded, team members are mentally prepared to engage in passionate discussion without the fear of being perceived as vulnerable or the fear of reprisal. It means that one can speak up and not worry that someone is going to judge them, question their worth to the team if a particular comment is not one of their best, or interrupt them until they finish their thought. They know that while their idea may not be accepted, at least it will be heard. What is important here is to focus on discussion and resolving issues more quickly while avoiding personality-focused and mean-spirited attacks.

Many people have been trained to launch personal attacks when they are not getting their way. The leader has to make sure that this behavior is not tolerated, and that topics focus on the issues that need to be resolved. If everyone is not weighing in and openly debating and disagreeing on important ideas at your meetings, look for passive-aggressive behavior behind the scenes or back-channel attacks. What organizations find is that healthy conflict saves them a lot of time and leads to much better decisions. The role of the leader is to practice restraint and to allow for conflict and resolution to occur naturally.

The third dysfunction, commitment, is often missing in many organizations. As you can now see, it likely resulted from a lack of healthy debate in meetings, which led to false consensus and weak buy-in to the decisions. By having productive conflict and tapping into everyone’s perspectives and opinions, everyone can confidently buy in and commit. Even those who voted against the matter at least know their issues have been heard and considered. Now commitment is required.

Great teams know the danger of seeking consensus and certainty and find ways to achieve buy-in from the rest of the team. The leader’s role is to demonstrate decisiveness and to communicate awareness and acceptance of the fact that some decisions may turn out wrong. He or she must push decisions around issues, as well as adherence to schedules that the team has set. The leader must cascade messaging to key people in the organization to support follow-through on decisions so that everyone is clearly aligned.

The fourth dysfunction, accountability is also a team effort. Team members need to hold each other accountable in daily, weekly and monthly meetings when their behaviors and actions do not support the goals set by the team. Peer pressure is the most effective and efficient means of producing performance. A team should create clear standards, using leading indicators to enable each team member to know that they are doing their part. The more detailed the actions plans and the more specific the leading and lagging performance measures are, the easier it will be to hold people accountable. This is where many teams fall down. It is the leader’s role to demand these details and to allow the team to serve as the primary accountability mechanism. However, when the team does not serve this function well, there should be an external measure so that they team cannot run too far off course and eventually fail to achieve its goal(s).

The last dysfunction, inattention to results, seems obvious but is very hard to manage. This is where ego and self-preservation get in the way of company goals. If teammates are not being held accountable for their contributions to the collective results, they will likely look to their own personal or departmental interests and advancement. By having good measures in place to align an individual’s incentives with that of their team goals rather than their personal performance, an organization can produce better results. The role of the leader is to set the tone to focus on results. A problem will arise if team members sense that the leader values anything other than team results or demonstrates anything different in their own behaviors than what is expected of the team. It is important that a leader’s conversations with individuals are consistent with focusing on organizational results and not encouraging selfish behaviors.

Many organizations will find that they can significantly increase their results by improving the performance of their teams. Pat Lencioni has done a wonderful job of identifying these five areas that clearly compromise the efforts of most teams.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To contact Howard Shore please call (305) 722-7213 or email him at [email protected].

Used the “Synopsis of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Randy Mayeax, of Creative Communication Network for as additional reference material.

Business Planning, Leadership, Management, Teamwork