The Definition of a Dysfunctional Team….Can You Say “The Miami Heat”?

OK, I admit it.  I was thrilled to watch LeBron and his Miami Heat “team” self-implode during the 2011 NBA finals.  Interestingly, I was not alone seeing that an ESPN poll showed that 49 states in the U.S. wanted to see Dallas beat Miami.  The lesson we all learned during this year’s NBA finals is that dysfunction within a team, regardless of the level of talent of the individuals, inhibits organizations from reaching their goals (in the case of the Miami Heat, an NBA championship).  The good news for Miami (please do not share this blog with them) is organizational dysfunction can be corrected by understanding the underlying causes that prevented them from working as a team.

MCM has a 20-year history of acquiring MicroCap manufacturers of highly engineered components and products and value added distributors possessing competitive advantages while operating in niche markets anticipated to experience superior long-term growth.   One of the attributes we hope to find in target companies is a management team rowing in the same direction to achieve common goals.  Patrick Lencioni, the best selling author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” opens his New York Times Bestseller with the following: “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology.  It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage,  both because it is so powerful and so rare”.  He goes on to say “that teamwork comes down to mastering a set of behaviors that are at once theoretically uncomplicated, but extremely difficult to put into practice day after day.  Success only comes for those groups that overcome the all-too-human behavioral tendencies that corrupt teams and breed dysfunctional politics within them.”

Lencioni  identifies the following 5 elements of a dysfunctional team:

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust

This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible. 

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict

Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment

Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability (Are you listening LeBron?)

When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results

Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

MCM, through our past experiences, has come to learn the causes of dysfunction within a team are both identifiable and curable.   The first step to improving your team’s dynamics is to understand whether or not your organization is being held back due to certain dysfunctions within your organization.  The Table Group, an organizational consultant and follower of Lencioni’s theory, recommends the leader of an organization ask yourself these simple questions:

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 self interest for the good of the team?

If you answered “no” to more than one of these questions you have some work cut out for you in terms of taking the necessary steps to improve the dynamics within your organization.  Should this be the case, I recommend you consider retaining an organizational consultant capable of working closely with your management team.

Lencioni states that “a well-functioning team can achieve more than individuals could ever achieve alone”.   Certainly, Game 6 of the NBA Finals demonstrated this assertion in spades!


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