What Everybody Ought to Know About How to Build Better Teams
By Bonnie F. Mattick, M.A. Ed., MBA

When it comes to conventional wisdom, we know that teamwork impacts the bottom line. Your office leadership may tell you they want to apply team principles to the workplace, but they fail to make the commitment to follow through.

Did you read the article recently that praised the benefits of using the team building concepts from "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni? The article, printed in an HR/TD Council Journal, was titled "Building Teams: Why You Need Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, and Attention to Detail", by Mary Herrmann. Ms. Herrmann followed the Patrick Lencioni model, but did not go far enough in explaining that "great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team…." This does not culminate in commitment. All the other factors fail without the full and complete commitment by all team members, and their senior-level management. Here's an example of that.

While working with a federal office, I experienced a perfect example of commitment's essential quality. I had a long-established business relationship with the Director of the office. While I was discussing some workplace issues with him, he told me about wanting to expand his management team's capabilities. When he told me about the issues they were facing he said he felt that they needed some "team building". He failed to say they had tried this before. During our meeting, we talked about the "five dysfunctions" and how his group might overcome them in order to get better results from the team. I agreed to present a program based on Lancioni's "Five Dysfunctions of a Team." He was most intrigued with "focusing on results," and they had recently started to build trust within the team.

At the start of the program, we talked about the concepts of trust, and the participants all agreed, that it is about being "vulnerable." It takes time to develop. After working with the group a short time, I could see they were reticient to be open and honest. To become vulnerable in the current environment would take some work.

Fear, concern and perhaps intimidation are very real feelings that develop in many work groups. This is not unique and certainly not unnatural. In any group there is striving and metaphorically speaking, scratching, to align the pecking order with one's needs and desires.

My role of course was to navigate through this rather difficult situation. Many different and diverse personality styles were involved. Some were at least interested in becoming more open and perhaps vulnerable. It seemed however, that many were being influenced by a "puppeteer" … who was pulling everyone's strings. She often overshadowed her boss. This person wanted to make sure nothing changed… she had control and wanted to maintain that. Things that occurred during our workshop were even a threat to her.

Perhaps it would have been helpful if the Director had told me about the failed team building that was previously held. We could have agreed to try a different approach and deal directly with the person that needed so much control. Prior to my effort they had tried the DISC, the Thomas-Kilmann assessment, the "Kilgarney-Blarney" profile, and everything else…..and some more than once. I found this out later……much later! The basic problem was - there was no commitment to change! The puppeteer influenced the team and she had everyone trained to respond to her demands and "string pulling" efforts. This permeated the organization……even though they are successful organization, the success will have a limit. Eventually things will have to change. Although the Director bought into the project, not everyone was on board with it. You can have the best design, the most creative presentation, but the process can be slowed down and disrupted if you don't have the buy in from the people in the group…..and complete participation by the people at the top. Some things that helped create the change for this group:

  1. Asked better questions at the start - before the team building project. What other team building programs had they participated in and what were the results?

  2. Worked with the group to establish rapport with individuals, prior to administering the profile tools. Had we taken the additional time to do it, this approach would have saved ........

  3. Reviewed their previously-done behavior profile tools. What behavior profile tools had they used and what were the results? Posting the previous results would show a pattern of behaviors and provide a picture for the group

  4. Gained individual commitment from each participant prior to the start of the team building sessions. What goals did they want to achieve or what desired work behaviors did they want to change?

  5. Gained complete and full commitment for follow-through from the Director, who requested the program!

  6. Lencioni's model may help us build more effective teams, but unless the commitment is there for implementation and follow-through, the concepts of building trust, dealing with productive conflict, creating accountability and identifying ways for achieving success cannot be met unless there is full and unconditional commitment.
To successfully implement the Lencioni model, you must take the following steps:
  • Build your team by building trust and defining how it applies to your group.

  • Second, help the group benefit by mastering conflict and understanding how to leverage the trust they've established. We reinforce this with activities that demonstrate how finding the "ideal" conflict point in the group ensures more effective meetings and benefits the group.

  • Achieve commitment, which means more than just getting people to communicate better --- we want to see them "on the same page" with how the team fits into the business goals. Gain their buy in.

  • The last steps are easy -- once we have commitment from all team members, we are able to see how the team may leave a more favorable, rather than unfavorable, impression on others in the company.
Benefiting the bottom-line is what we focus on - getting results for the team means getting results for the entire organization! We work with the team to identify ways they contribute to the balanced scorecard and the benefits that the team realizes as a whole.

During this brief overview I want to emphasize how commitment to decisions and the processes for the team will help achieve clarity. Commitment places importance on a goal by taking ownership and responsibility for timelines. According to the famous basketball coach, Pat Riley, "There are only two options regarding commitment. You're either 'in' or you're 'out'. There's no such thing as life in-between." What is your group's commitment to collaboration and achieving goals?

Copyright Mattick & Associates, LLC - 2008
Bonnie F. Mattick, Principal

Biographical Summary - Bonnie F. Mattick

Bonnie F. Mattick, speaker, author, performance consultant, is the owner of Mattick & Associates, LLC, and delivers customized performance improvement solutions designed to increase productivity, reduce costs, improve customer service and foster better teams. Participants in her workshops and seminars embrace her innovative and interactive techniques, including music and parodies, to enhance retention and reap sustainable results.

Bonnie earned both a M.A.Ed. and a MBA degree making her uniquely qualified to integrate business goals and core competencies with desired outcomes. She has co-authored articles published in the Performance Improvement Journal, "The Effect of Training on the Bottom Line," May 2006; the Journal of Quality and Participation, "Teamwork Pays," January 2007. For further information, email Bonnie at bonnie@bonnniemattick.com.
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