Have you ever seen your one of your managers–a grown man–cry after your staff tells him he is a leader and urges him to stop thinking he isn’t worthy of a leadership role? Do you know if your office manager is emotionally wounded by the fact that she is being undermined by one of your partners? Did you ever invite your staff to tell you where you are failing them?
If you have not communicated at this level with your team, you probably should. Without this kind of communication, your team is dysfunctional, your business is waylaid by people problems, and your service is probably suffering from a lack of commitment from your staff.
So says Patrick Lencioni, author of the bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002), who believes management is based on trust. If key people in your firm trust each other, he argues, they will exchange brutally honest constructive criticism. Once they are capable of this, they will be committed to their decisions and goals, can be held accountable, and are more likely to produce results.
Why did you write this book? The biggest untapped potential for organizations is its people. Companies don’t lack finance, technology, and marketing. Southwest Airlines isn’t successful because of its business model. Any airline could duplicate it; it’s Southwest’s culture that makes it work. The real opportunity for most companies is to address organizational dysfunction, a big part of which is the team at the top. I wrote this book because it represents the greatest opportunity for improvement and the greatest source of pain and suffering for people in an organization. While people have been talking about teamwork for decades, when you ask people how to do it–how to create teamwork–there are a thousand approaches. I’ve come up with five ways teams are destroyed or become dysfunctional.
Many of our readers work at small firms with only three or five people. Would you ideas apply to them? If you only have three people in your office, then everyone is on the team. The five dysfunctions apply in the strongest, purest way in a firm where everyone is on the first team. But the number of people on a team is critical. Generally, smaller is better than larger. When you get close to nine on your team, it’s harder to be a team. Five to nine is the right amount of people. Too many companies ask people to be on their leadership team for reasons of inclusion or as a reward. The only reason someone should be on a leadership team is because he or she serves the organization. The reason you want to limit the number of people is that teams have two kinds of communication: advocacy, where someone says something like, ‘I think we should invest in bonds;’ and inquiry, where people say, “Why do you say that?” When a teams gets beyond nine, people spend too much time advocating. When too many people are at the table, there’s a sense that you won’t get the floor back and people just keep advocating.
The first dysfunction that you talk about is a lack of trust. Team members have to get comfortable with one another if they are going to have any chance of addressing the other dysfunctions. When I talk about trust, I’m not talking about predictive trust, like I can predict that person’s behavior. Anyone that’s worked together long enough can have that kind of trust. I’m talking about vulnerability-based trust, where people are willing to be open about their mistakes and who they are. When people know that the others on their team are fully capable of acknowledging themselves–good and bad–and when people become confident that what others on the team say is what they really mean, they are willing to acknowledge a better idea and be completely open. That kind of trust is irreplaceable. When people are not capable of being vulnerable and fully human, that is when politics enters. People try to manipulate situations for themselves instead of being nakedly honest.
You have some trust-building exercises that help teams. First is the personal histories exercise, where people talk about who they are. It is not a touchy-feely sort of thing. In this exercise, we asked people to say who they are, where they grew up, how many siblings they have. People need to be comfortable talking about where they came from if they are going to trust each other. We’ve seen people who have worked together closely for 10 years who didn’t know basic things about their colleagues’ character development and background that informed who they are and why they act the way they do. I once came across a situation where we asked team members for the most difficult challenge they faced in their childhood. One fellow said his sibling was murdered when he was 12, and he talked about how that affected him. This fellow had worked there for nine years and never mentioned this to anyone, even though it was a big part of who he is. If you work on a team, however, it is a relatively intimate thing, and people have to know each other. I’m not saying you need to pry or talk about these issues every day. But people need to know one another and understand each other.