I recently had a coaching session with an extraordinary individual caught up in a very ordinary leadership team. She described the experience as being stuck in “dysfunction junction”.
When I asked her to describe what she meant, she shared a host of cringeworthy behaviours;
What my client described were just some of the many unfortunate behaviours encountered in dysfunctional teams.
Have you ever found yourself stuck at dysfunction junction?
No one ever sets out looking for this place, but we find ourselves here when the group doesn’t do any work on the group. That is; the individuals in the group have not placed enough worth on the team dynamic and, without attention, like an under-watered plant, it withers and dies.
Just like we can’t be all talk, no action; we can’t be all action, no talk. Put simply, if a team only ever talk about the work, and never show any care or consideration for the human beings in the group; there is no trust.
Patrick Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” has for the past 20 years been the reference book for defining dysfunction junction. He lists the Five Dysfunctions as:
The Absence of Trust is represented as the foundation principle in a pyramid model, with Fear of Conflict stacked on next and so on until Inattention to Results arrives at the tip.
In this model, trust is the starting point. Without trust, we can’t openly share dissenting views and challenge ideas. Without sharing views, we can’t buy-in, and without buying in, we can’t meaningfully take accountability. Ultimately, with all this energy put into emotional manoeuvring, we lose sight of results.
According to this framework, switching from dysfunctional to functional starts with systematically building trust in the group. The presence of trust creates a psychologically safe environment, encouraging more sharing of diverse viewpoints.
The more functional the team dynamic, the greater the tolerance for diversity and difference. The more open we can be to different points of view, the more rigorous we can be and ultimately this leads to better buy-in, quality of decision making and hopefully results.
The way I see it, the team dynamic is built in leadership teams through the ways they work together to perform their ultimate function to govern an organisation. These are the bonds that tie – the implicit psychological agreements in how people work together.
There are five key functions that leadership teams must perform which ultimately impact the dynamic and effectiveness of the group. These are:
|The proportion of individual contribution to the group||The honesty and diversity of views shared||The degree to which ideas are understood and incorporated||The degree of curiosity, inquiry, and testing of ideas||The process for how decisions are made|
Leaving dysfunction junction and finding team synergy is possible when the group pays attention to how they are forming bonds of trust and a productive team dynamic.
For my client, mentioned at the start of this story; the turnaround came when we sat in a workshop with her leadership peers and discussed the culture they wanted to create for each other. By opening a dialogue about the team dynamic, she was empowered to call out the behaviours that both built trust and destroyed trust. Whilst this is only a starting point, it set the group on a new course characterised by shared standards and agreements.
If you’re stuck in dysfunction junction and want to find your way back to Team Synergy – invite a conversation with your team about the team culture you want to create together. List everyone’s ideas on a flipchart or whiteboard. Ask the group how you can go about living this reality more often through the nature of your contributions, how you listen, question, share the space and make decisions. Set an example that change is possible through active and open discussion about the group dynamic.