Quoting Patrick Lencioni, "not finance, not strategy, not technology, it is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare". Creating and maintaining a good, highly performing team takes more than just people working together.
The ultimate goal of a great team is to focus on outcomes. However, before a team achieves successful results it is expected that it faces 5 dysfunctionalities that are related to one another:
- The first one is the absence of trust among team members. Trust is the base for real teamwork and members are usually afraid of facing hard situations and unwilling to show vulnerability with their teammates. When team members are not open to expose and talk about their weaknesses and mistakes it is impossible to build strong foundations.
- When trust is missing, we start to feel fear of conflict leading to a lack of healthy conflict. Without trust, teams cannot engage in passionate discussions defending their ideas. Instead, team members avoid discussions and make up their comments creating an artificial harmony.
- Without healthy conflicts people are incapable of deciding or defending their ideas and they skip decisions. With this approach, team members do not buy-in decisions from others, which ends in a lack of commitment.
- The fourth dysfunction comes as a result of the lack of commitment and it occurs when team members develop an avoidance of accountability. Not being committed to a group decision prevents the team from creating a clear action plan to achieve their goals and members to follow it. This avoidance of accountability leads people to react to issues and blockers as "not my problem" and as a consequence, unhealthy behaviors and actions are not highlighted.
- Finally, people that avoid accountability put their individual needs on top of teams' ones creating the last and more harmful dysfunction of a team, the inattention to results. Sometimes these needs are career development, search for personal recognition and ego. Something important that Lencioni points to is the differentiation between egos, admitting that ego exists but is useful when collective ego is greater than individual ones. This is common in highly competitive and performant sports teams where each player understands that their skills are not enough to defeat their rivals unless they trust on their teammates' skills.
Focus on collective results
Nevertheless, there is good news. These dysfunctions can be overcome creating highly cohesive teams focused on collective results instead of personal ones:
- Build trust between team members allowing them to have confidence among one another, trusting that intentions from their teammates are good, removing the need to be careful inside the group. In other words, get comfortable with being vulnerable with one another.
- Once we build trust inside the team we may start to master conflicts. Productive conflicts and discussions are essential for a team to grow. This will prevent any team members that cannot openly debate about important issues to turn the conversation to personal attacks, creating a harmful environment that a heated argument over issues can generate.
- Achieving commitment is a key part of every team that desires to perform in the best possible way. Now that the team can argue passionately defending their points of views they will provide clarity and get buy-in from their pairs. Something that usually gets mixed with achieving commitment is the desire for consensus and the need for certainty. Great teams understand that people can support a decision as long as they are heard and considered, even if the final decision is different from their proposal.
- When team members are committed to their goal they embrace accountability allowing themselves to push their pairs to the limit without falling into interpersonal offences. As politically incorrect as this may sound, peer pressure is the key to maintaining a high standard of performance as, being all in the same path and direction, each one understands that everyone is working at full potential so this pressure instead of an order is an invitation to push together.
- Finally, a team where members trust each other, are willing to engage in a healthy conflict, achieve commitment and embrace accountability, is the one that understands that team goals are more important than personal ones making them focus on results.
Before wrapping up, let's not forget the importance of the Scrum Core values that will for sure help to overcome the Five Dysfunctions of a Team mentioned before:
- Respect: Building trust inside a team is impossible without respect for each other to be capable and independent fellow team members.
- Courage: Overcoming the fear of conflict and mastering requires courage to do the right thing and work on tough problems.
- Commitment: To achieve commitment people need to commit as individuals to achieve the goals of the team.
- Openness: Openness with other team members and stakeholders enables the team to embrace accountability.
- Focus: The last one sounds like the most obvious relationship, where every team member keeps the focus on the iterations and goals of the team.
To conclude, we cannot expect to have highly performant teams focused on a common goal and keep accountable if there is no trust among team members that enables us to go through difficult discussions in a professional manner without falling in personal attacks or just avoiding those conversations. Let's build trust with our teammates and push harder together!
- The Five Dysfunction of a Team, Patrick Lencioni, 2002.
- Scrum Values, Scrum Guides.