Manage a team: It seems easy, and instead …

“Talent wins matches, but teamwork and intelligence win championships” – Michael Jordan

A fact now incontrovertible is that in the last decade the intellectual work has been distorted in its modalities, if not also in substance. In particular, the instant accessibility to information and the ease of sharing data in real time have made the world extremely fluid of work and revolutionized team management methods.

Today, an individual can be part of a group whose members are located in different and distant places, and can communicate effectively through exceptional tools (such as Slack, Trello, Skype and many others) that make the email look like a rusty heritage of a by now remote past. There are no longer working hours, there is no longer an “office”.

The Human Factor

In all this, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that behind every screen there is a human being, endowed with a universe of feelings, desires, problems, aspirations, needs. Man in its marvelous complexity continues to represent the constant immutability of the system; everything else is just an instrument, which can simplify or complicate the achievement of the goal.

Therefore, whether a team is all gathered in a room or miles away, success or failure always depends on how much and how you can work together. Fortunately, sport reminds us every day.

At the same time, managing people has always been – and, probably, forever – the most difficult mission of all; therefore, it should not come as a surprise that in the business world it is full of managers (who perhaps believe themselves to be leaders) in search of easy shortcuts, blinded by “everything and immediately”, who entrust their hopes to technology and then remain inevitably disappointed.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

There are many theories about team management; in my experience, I found particularly effective the work of Patrick Lencioni, an American consultant specializing in team development and in the health of organizations, author of several successful essays including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Lencioni goes straight to the heart of the problem, immediately putting on the table critical issues such as motivation, aspirations, and the reasons behind the behavior of individuals. According to the – provocatively negative – approach by Lencioni, there are 5 potential dysfunctions in each team, closely related to each other in an addictive relationship. The path to improvement is always a path in progress, without a true point of arrival; it can be said, however, that resolving these dysfunctions can result in an efficient, productive, happy group.

Manage a team

The following list wants to show in general what these dysfunctions are and how they interact with each other, and to stimulate a more in-depth study. This instead is the structure – not surprisingly a pyramid – of the 5 Dysfunctions.

The Absence Of Trust

At the base of the pyramid is the lack of trust among team members. Without mutual trust, one cannot even speak of “team”. The key question, however, is: trust in what? What aspects of others should we trust? The most common misunderstanding is that trust must be placed in the consistency of behavior and the maintenance of quality standards, or in the fact that someone is not mistaken.

We are human beings, however, and as such fallacies; Lencioni points out that we would always remain so, inevitably disappointed.

Confidence instead is the certainty that the intentions of the other team members are positive; we can make mistakes, and therefore we must not be afraid of becoming mutually vulnerable: that is to admit mistakes, ask for help, accept questions and feedback on their behavior, avoid “thinking bad”.

Continue Reading: Team building and corporate leadership: How to get the most out of employees in 5 steps

The Fear Of Conflict

Nobody likes to argue. Worse, when it is feared of losing or being forced to admit that it was wrong. Moreover, for these very reasons, conflict often leads to personal contexts, linked to the physical aspect, to values, or in general to elements that do not concern the subject we are discussing.

Therefore, we naturally tend to avoid conflict. Yet, productive conflict is one of the key ingredients for a group’s success. In its absence, or one has artificial harmony (it seems that everything is fine, but only because no one addresses the hot topics) or a harmful, perpetual and unproductive conflict.

The production conflict, on the other hand, can only be achieved if there is trust based on vulnerability in the group. This is because fear disappears, everyone is considered on the same level, and a discussion based on ideas is established.

The most serious damage an unproductive conflict can cause to the group is the third dysfunction.

Manage a team

The Lack Of Commitment

What guarantees that all the members of the group, once they leave the discussion, not only respect, but also promote the decision taken by the group as their own?

If the conflict is not there, or is negative, it is extremely probable that the disagreement does not emerge. Those who cannot express their opinion and are not listened to, will hardly make a decision of others.

Lencioni identifies two main causes of the lack of commitment: the search for consensus at all costs and the need for certainty to have made the right decision.

On the contrary, the awareness that unanimous consent will rarely be reached, and yet a decision must be made, allows all to align on the right expectations. At the same time, it is necessary to be aware that there is no “right” decision regardless, and that the knowledge to make valid decisions in the vast majority of cases already resides within the group. Rather, a favorable attitude is needed to learn also through mistakes, which must be seen as a very precious source of information.

The Escape From Responsibility

Those who do not commit themselves to implementing the group’s decision are in fact trying to escape their responsibilities. Yet according to Lencioni the sense of responsibility is not an exclusively individual fact. On the contrary, on the contrary, in accordance with the axiom according to which “the speed of an organization equals that of its slower member”, in order to maintain high quality standards of work it is necessary that the members of the group refer reciprocally to their respective responsibilities.

In this way, we ensure that those with lower performance than the rest of the group always feel the pressure to improve, that the problems are identified before questioning the approach of others, that there is deep mutual respect between team members – who are measured on the same high standards – and that there is no need to resort to too bureaucratic structures for performance control.

Main obstacle? The discomfort that is felt in recalling one’s peer for its behavior. Discomfort undoubtedly reduced when there is a solid relationship of trust at the base.

Manage a team

Inattention For Results

The presence of the dysfunctions listed so far ultimately determines inattention to the results (understood here in a not only economic sense). In other words, the subjects cease to worry about the outcome of their actions and tend to adopt individualistic behaviors, dictated by status (“I am the boss”) or by an ego no longer serving the common goal.

It is not difficult to understand why this dysfunction has been positioned at the tip of the pyramid: the achievement of results (even intermediate ones, depending on the achievement of the final objective) represents the ultimate goal of the group’s existence.

A Team That Works

How will a team that works, therefore, behave?

  • There will be mutual trust and willingness to make oneself vulnerable to one another
  • The conflict will not only not be feared but will be actively sought, as a better tool for making decisions
  • Once everyone has listened to it, each member of the team will defend and promote the group’s decision as if it were their own, even if they disagreed
  • All team members are interested in the areas of responsibility of others and refer to each other
  • Each member of the team will ensure that their behavior contributes to the achievement of the group’s goal, without hidden personal agendas and conflicts of interests.

If virtuous behavior is lacking, there is no technology to keep!

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