Team Dysfunctions in Nutshell

“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time”.
Try to imagine this situation in your organization, team, project anything where you work with some group of people trying to achieve some results. Amazing, isn’t it?
For sure it should be! Whenever I read this sentence I always try to imagine this situation in my team. After a second I start to think what I can do to be there. There are a lot things which can be helpful, like some team building activities. But sometimes the most powerful thing is to know the root cause of the problem and here come team dysfunctions.

Some of you might have read Patrick Lencioni’s book “The five dyfunctions of a team”. While reading first 180 pages you can dive into DecisionTech world from the perspective of their new CEO – Kathryn. Learning about team dysfunctions from this example help you to imagine this situation and put yourself into Kathryns’ shoes.

The first and most common dysfunction of a team is lack of trust. I’ve heard and read a lot about trust within the team during some Scrum trainings, etc. But question here should be why it is so basic and so important. Let’s move this to slightly different ground. Let’s imagine the situation:
You are a part of a team. Your task is to prepare some visual data based on previous history of the project.  The team consists of 8 people focused only on their tasks. Each of the team members avoid direct talk to each other. If they have any problems they are more likely to stay long hours instead of asking colleagues, etc. 
What are the chances to finish the project within given time? What is the reason why people do not talk to each other?
The reason for this is our lack of trust. If you do not trust your teammate you won’t ask them for any help because you are ashamed you do not have enough knowledge to accomplish it by yourself. Besides, you do not even know your co-workes so how  you can trust them. The healthy relation should be based on self-confidence that any of your problems or concerns won’t be left without any help. We all (as a team) should be focused on a shared goal – to achieve it – we need everyone’s sucesses!

Some excercises to overcome this issue:

  1. Personality tests – on the Internet there are plenty of different personality tests. Organize some workshops in your team. Bring a chosen test and give it to your collegues. Once they finish, talk for a while about the results. How can you (as a team) use this knowledge to achieve better results?
  2. “Dixit game” – I’ll talk about in the next chapter
  3. Plenty of other “get to know each other games”
  4. Beer after work 😀 – always works

Note: It’s worth to take into account the stage your team is currently in (based on Tuckman’s model). Different excercises are good for the new teams and different for teams in storming stage, etc.

The second dysfunction is fear of conflict. Based on some dictionaries conflict means to come into collision or disagreement. In terms of teams conflict should be understood as fear to bring some crucial stuff openly to talk about it. It’s not about arguing in the offensive way, not about keeping on argument but to resolve important problems and find solution as soon as possible. To give you the chance to understand it more easily: good conflict gives us the feeling that we care. We care so we want to talk about it and we want to find the best possible solution. If our team is struggling with this issue we can observe harmony (mostly atrificial). I’ve heared a few times from other Scrum Masters things like: “Yeeeah, my team has some conflicts! I’m so happy. We’re moving forward!”. Most people will think that’s crazy but to be honest it is not! This dysfunction is strongly connected with the first one. Without trust we cannot bring any valuable things on the table but without  being open we cannot commit to any activity and here comes our third dysfunction: lack of commitment.

Commitment means to stick to any plan or action team wants to achieve. To overcome this issue we do not need to seek for some consensus (which is the worst thing we can do). People do not agree with each other. What do we really need is some strong and honest emotional support of team members for some action. No matter if they totally agree or totally disagree. As we can read: “Most reasonable people don’t have to get their way in a discussion. They just need to be heard, and to know that their input was considered and responded to”. One of the simplest excercises to overcome this dysfunction is to set some deadlines. For instance, you can give the team a task to create some worst-case scenario based on some scope which then will become their commitment. We’ve got some versions of this during planning ceremony in Scrum.

We trust each other, we can talk openly, we can commit to some stuff so what do we need more?  We need responsibility or if we’d like to call the dysfunction: avoidance of accountability. Here are some basics behaviours which show this issue:
1. Team often misses deadline
2. Team does not care about key deliverables or some business objectives
3. Team encourages mediocrity
4. Team places an undue burden on the team leader or manager
The easiest way to overcome this is to have “peer pressure”.  There is nothing like letting down respected teammates. To make it happen you can organize some regular progress reviews. Reviews should be provided in some kind of communication between team members regarding how they feel rest of the team is doing against some standards and objectives.

The top dysfunction is an inattention to results. It often happens when there are many distractions for the team or better opportunities to be involved into. You can see this when particular team members are more focused on their own careers and individual goals instead of team goals. It doesn’t mean our own development is not important! It is, but in terms of a team, collective goals are far more crucial. By making results clear and rewarding only those behaviors and actions that contribute to those results you can overcome this problem.

Below you can see a visual interpretation of five dysfunctions of a team.

5-dysfunction-of-team

Building a functional team isa  very tough game but to make it simpler we need to understand the basics which drives the group of people towards one goal. In the next chapter I’ll ty to eplain more based on my own experience.

I strongly encourge you to fill in some simple tests about your team’s possible dysfunctions. You can find some more information in Patric’s book or use this link.

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