Team Dysfunction: Recognizing the Symptoms

I recently met with the CEO of a growing tech company in Vancouver who reached out to ACETECH looking for advice and best practices to improve their company’s performance. The 15-year-old tech company had had a rather successful run; over the past two years, the company hit significant revenue milestones and doubled its team from 15 to 30 employees.

The CEO welcomed me into his office, and just before we started our discussion I noticed a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team on his desk.

“Team issues?” I asked.
“Performance issues,” he responded. “We’re not growing as fast as we should. And although I’m still trying to assess the root cause, I know it’s at least in part due to the executive team’s inability to perform like a team.”

The CEO explained that as the company grew, one of his top priorities was the development of a middle management layer. “I was wearing every hat,” he explained. With new people joining the team almost each month, it became obvious that structural changes were needed to allow him to focus on growth and step away from operations. He decided that rather than bringing new leaders in, it would be much stronger to use the talent that already existed in his current team, and elevate them to fill the upper management positions he needed.

“I have a high level of confidence in these people,” explained the CEO. “Most of them have been here since the beginning. I don’t think I could have a more competent leadership team. Everyone is the best at what they do. Not only that, they know this business inside out and they are all committed to growing their skills set in their specific area of expertise. We have a culture of learning in this organization and anyone can go to any kind of training at the company’s expense, no questions asked.”

However, there was a caveat. The CEO explained to me that when the executive team would get together to discuss strategy, something apparently wasn’t working. He mentioned how the team didn’t seem to interact amongst themselves the same way they interacted one-on-one with the CEO. “It’s frustrating,” he stated, “It’s like they are hiding behind their own division’s agenda. It’s competitive, but not in a healthy way for the organization as a whole.”

The CEO told me that he did experiment with different meeting approaches and strategic frameworks, hoping to overcome an issue, which on the surface, seemed to be related to lack of processes. However, nothing he did produced his desired outcome, suggesting that the issue had to do with the team’s cohesiveness and its ability to work together on common higher goals. It was this, that triggered him to look at Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  He fundamentally believed he had the right people on the team, but he knew he needed to address what was standing in the way of becoming a high performing team.

Lencioni’s book uncovers the natural human tendencies that derail teams and lead to politics and confusion in so many organizations. He explains the five dysfunctions as being:

  • Absence of Trust: the fear of being vulnerable with others which prevents trust from being built.
  • Fear of Conflict: the desire to preserve artificial harmony which prevents the confrontation of ideas.
  • Lack of Commitment: sometimes a result of lack of clarity or buy-in.
  • Avoidance of Accountability: to avoid personal or collective discomfort.
  • Inattention to Results: individual goals that erode the focus on collective goals.

“When I started comparing my team dysfunction to Lencioni’s list of five, it all started to make sense. Ever since, I’ve been trying to figure out which team dysfunction makes us the most dysfunctional!” the CEO explained with a touch humor.

Lencioni would argue that every team in every strata of life is susceptible to these dysfunctions, if not only because they are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings.

Do You Have Team Dysfunction?

To help make a quick assessment of the susceptibility of your team effectiveness, you can use Lencioni’s Team Effectiveness Exercise.

In this exercise, you’ll take your team through a series of questions and discussions, with which you’ll be able to discover the individual contribution each of your team members has to the overall team performance.

This exercise is great stepping stone to see if you’re experiencing team dysfunction. You’ll get a feel for what the individual skills and experiences of each or your team members are, as well as, begin what will hopefully be a series of lively meetings and discussions to work towards a high performing team.

As an extra resource, I also highly recommend picking up a copy of Lencioni’s book, where he goes into great details about the root causes of team dysfunction and how to overcome it.

ACETECH is BC’s only not for profit organization formed by CEOs for CEOs of companies innovating with technology. We help CEO’s lead better, grow faster, and feel empowered by offering a proven growth strategy program; transformative event experiences; and a trusted peer group for ongoing support.

Written by Simon Cloutier, ACETECH



2017-06-14T12:40:41-07:00 February 2, 2017|Blog Post, People|

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