There’s a great quote by the author Simon Sinek, who wrote, “a team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” There’s nothing mind-blowing about this quote on the surface – but how often do teams spend real quality time assessing their genuine cohesiveness? And who’s the right person to be ensuring they have the best performing team, where each member trusts the other, both today and into the future?
Trust is a huge issue and not something that can be assessed accurately unless, to some extent, trust already exists within the team. Confused? It’s a bit like the chicken and egg. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever really know if you have a truly high performing, trusting team if the team doesn’t operate in a culture where full transparency is the rule and not the exception – and for transparency to exist you first need at least some degree of trust to be present or a genuine desire to get to a point where the team can trust each other.
The general rule in most organizations seems to be to ignore this part of team dynamics and just let the group sort out their problems if and when they arise; tacitly accepting that not everyone is going to get on and allowing levels of dysfunctionality to exist – without fully understanding the impact on team performance and hence optimum output. In fact it seems that unless the underlying mistrust starts to negatively affect short-term performance goals, the problem will be ignored, in most cases, simply because leaders don’t have the confidence and skills to deal with it.
This approach fails on so many levels (1) you’ll never optimise your teams true potential; (2) individual team members will not support their colleagues above the very basic level; (3) the team will not innovate best in class solutions due to the distrust among its members; (4) ‘underground’ splits occur in the team where often one section thinks they are superior to another part of the team and gain favour with the leader, creating messy silos of distrusting self-serving sub-teams.
Another sad fact about dysfunctional teams are that they are the playground of command and control type leaders. These leaders thrive on their team being dysfunctional as it gives them more power to manipulate the business environment for their own personal gain. They have absolutely no interest in developing a cohesive team, as they fear losing their own slightly misplaced perception of control. Further they do not subscribe to one of the core roles of a leader that being to develop each team member to their optimal potential – as they fear this may threaten their very existence.
So how does one reverse this trend? Here are some fundamentals;
1) You have to want your team to be the best they can be?
2) You want an authentic team where honesty is a core value – which leads to a trusting environment (note: genuine honesty can be hard initially as team members hear the truth about how they are perceived, often for the first time and their ego’s get dented; but in the medium to long term the team, through focused leadership, get over themselves and focus on a honest future together).
3) You’re prepared to invest the time to build a successful team.
4) You set ground rules so you create an authentic environment, not a bitchy one.
5) You focus on the benefits of building the best team of highly motivated individuals.
6) You’re prepared to set the example.
So the starting point is for the board and executive team to ensure that they develop a leadership philosophy that rejects any form of command and control leadership; and they set the example to encourage leaders to develop high performing teams as a core responsibility. This means that as a leader you must be prepared to deal with team dynamics head on and be prepared to invest time and effort in developing a culture of trust – however hard that might be in the short term – as failure to develop a team that trusts each other means you will have accepted mediocrity as one of your core business values.
As Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, wrote; “remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
Besides reading the theory on team dynamics, business leaders can learn a lot from observing the best sports teams around the world where for example Phil Jackson (former coach and former player, currently serving as president of the New York Knicks) said “the strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
One strength of great sports team is their authentic communication – it’s one of the things that makes them stand out from the crowd of wannabe teams where, as the author Michele Jennae states “if we don’t communicate, we certainly can’t get much done and if we don’t communicate authentically, what we get done is less effective.” Players on and off the field are authentic about their strengths and weaknesses; they understand their primary team role; but are also prepared to support other teams mates as and when necessary – they know that if their communication isn’t authentic, the team will not play to its best potential and they won’t be the best.
It’s worth noting from a business perspective that this sports analogy isn’t saying the ‘dysfunctional’ team might not win – it just won’t win by the margin it could if it was working together as ‘one’ cohesive unit. And this is often where the confusion exists for the business leader – they see their ‘team’ winning and hence assume that things must be ‘good’ and don’t get involved enough in the team dynamics to understand that the winning is more ‘luck’ than due to the team ‘playing together’.
So it’s your choice as a leader, are you confident and good enough to truly examine your team dynamics to find out if you have an environment of transparency and genuine trust; and are you prepared to invest time and effort in developing the best team dynamics possible?
Remember “leadership is not about your ambition. It is about bringing out the ambitions of your team” ― Cheryl A. Bachelder, Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others