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The 5 Powers of Successful Teams

In his paper “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team“, Patrick Lencioni describes the absence of 5 basics characteristics of a team making it dysfunctional. 

I’d like to give it a more positive twist and look at it as 5 powers that are critical for a team to be cohesive and ultimately successful.

POWER #1: TRUST

The foundation layer for every team has got to be trust. That fragile emotional state that usually takes a long time to build and just seconds to vanish once and for all. Trust develops when we meet each other as vulnerable human beings and stop wearing a mask (not in the COVID-sense). Trust develops when we confess that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, do stupid stuff, that we don’t always do what we said we would do and actually ask for help when we need it. Trust can’t be claimed, it needs to be earned and during the process of building it, it gets tested repeatedly, just to make sure it’s the right thing to do. Of course, honest and authentic communication is needed, but trust is being built by actions and behaviors and not through words. The other major ingredient of trust is empathy – that team members actually care about each other. Eventually trust takes away fear and allows us to open up.

POWER #2: CONFLICT

With the generations of Millennials, a new mantra seems to have emerged: “Conflict is bad and therefore needs to be avoided at all costs”. Maybe it comes from over-protective parents who wanted to shield their children from any kind of problems not realizing that problems are what makes us grow as individuals. The avoidance of conflict leads to artificial harmony while it is boiling under the hood so to speak. Our democratic society is built upon the foundation of debate as pre-requisite for decision making. That is the reason why we have a parliament and not just a legislative authority. We have the right of free speech, the right to be heard, the right to disagree. Teams who have a good level of trust will identify and discuss important topics and bring them to resolution. Team members actually listen to each other and appreciate the different points of views that are being expressed. In that process better, more profound decisions are being made and it is NOT about winning or losing but rather about making sure that all different aspects have been covered. Leaders need to leave enough room for a thorough debate but also drive the decision making. This can be a real balancing act and requires a lot of sensitivity, presence and rapport. Once a decision is made the team members need to accept it and we can take the issue off the table. Cohesive teams do this efficiently and do not waste time discussing the same issues over and over again. Making (good) decisions equals progress and progress makes the team feel good!

POWER #3: COMMITMENT

Ambiguity can drive even the most loyal employees crazy. It is amongst the top reasons why high performers leave. If there is trust amongst the team members and the issues at hand have gone through a healthy debate with a decision being taken, team members have the clarity and the transparency on why and how the decision was made. This is the basis for them to commit. I’d like to call it a “mobilized commitment” meaning not just “I’m OK with it and I’ll let others make it happen” but rather “I was part of making this decision and I will make an active contribution to it being implemented”. People naturally want to commit and engage but they withhold that power until they understand the strategy and feel that it is worthwhile going for it. Last but not least they need to understand what’s in it for them. Mobilized commitment is a state that needs to be constantly monitored and managed. The role of leaders is to demonstrate their own commitment, go first and keep on track even if the going gets tough!

POWER #4: ACCOUNTABILITY

When there is trust, transparency and mobilized commitment with a clear action plan, employees will allow the team to hold them accountable for keeping their commitments and delivering on their expected contributions. This means that team members will call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the good of the team. It is an unpleasant but necessary process to go through. Those who get called upon do not take it as a personal or political attack but rather as a helpful hint on how to contribute even more to the overall performance of the team. This links back to being vulnerable and the power of having a healthy debate.

POWER #5: RESULTS

This is about absolute joint focus on the outcome that the team committed to deliver. 

It is also about team members putting the needs of the team in front of their own needs. It is about the belief that if the team achieves the desired result, everyone will be looked after. Of course, this does not mean that everyone can and will always contribute equally. It is great to have star performers and recognize them accordingly. It is great to have some competition for the #1 position, but if you believe that your performance is constantly above the rest of your team then you are probably in the wrong team.

Lencioni delivers a set of powerful questions that can be used to check the status of a team:

  • Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions? 
  • Are team meetings compelling and productive? 
  • Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus? 
  • Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings? 
  • Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team? 

How do your answers look like for your team?

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