Ryan Clear digs into the concept of team building and practical strategies that leaders can apply to build a successful team.
Team building. It has become one of those buzzwords, which many of us are becoming tired of. We cringe at the thought of ropes courses, falling backward blindfolded, three-legged races, etc. Okay, sometimes they can be fun in the moment, but when these exercises end, we dismiss them as soft, a waste of time, and absolutely nothing to do with our day-to-day work with our colleagues. And we are right.
For team building to be truly effective, it must be practical and connect to our work. If it is not easily and tightly connected to “getting things done,” there will be no real building up of the team, and there will be no real change in results.
How do we make team building practical?
Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team (that little red book) speaks about how teams can become much more effective by eliminating dysfunction: politics, silos, confusion, infighting, etc.
The first thing a leader needs to do, and the most foundational one, is to create an environment of trust. This trust isn’t based on competency or reliability but on vulnerability. Don’t get me wrong, competency is important here, but I assume that most firms hire people who are competent or can become competent with some training. For teams to be effective, team members, starting with the leader, need to be able to be vulnerable with each other. Here, it is not so much as getting touchy-feely, but it’s about being comfortable around one another to freely share what you have on your mind.
Once there is trust, you can move into the second aspect of team building, which is conflict. Conflict is uncomfortable for most people, but it is essential to being able to come up with the best way forward. It is about conflict around ideas to look for the best course of action, so it is constructive. If team members don’t trust each other, and they can’t be vulnerable enough to share what they have on their minds, they will most likely hold back contributions that could help the team greatly.
Commitment. This is the third aspect of team building. If I am not able to say what I think, then there will not be healthy, constructive conflict, which means that it will be more difficult for me to buy into a decision. A member of the team might say that they agree with the idea (out of fear), but then, at least on a subconscious level, they will probably end up sabotaging the idea amongst their colleagues or in the way they work. This lack of alignment can be very costly to any organization!
Accountability is the fourth aspect of team building. When everybody truly commits, then the team members (not just the leader!) can hold the others accountable. We all have had experience in organizations where there is no (or very little) accountability because of a lack of true commitment to a decision.
Finally, we need to look at the results of the team. A leadership team needs to look at the collective results and say “Are we succeeding in what we set out to do?” It is not enough to say “Well, my department is doing its job. We are getting results.” It is about the results of the leadership team first.
The wonders of a functional team go deep and long. When a team is functional, when it follows these five elements of building a team, it sets itself up for success.
Is team building enough?
At the beginning of this post, we said that it is important that team building be practical, related to the day-to-day work of the team. So these 5 elements of team building are not enough. We are just getting started, and this is where it gets exciting…
When a team has trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and attention to results, when it embraces this way of working as a team, then we can move on to the next step: ensuring that there is a forensic sense of clarity around the answers to 6 simple, yet fundamental questions, as outlined in Lencioni’s The Advantage. What’s important here is not the perfect answer, because time is also an important factor. The essential thing is that the team can rally around the answers to the questions. The leadership team will need to sit down and answer these questions together, engaging in healthy conflict and debate, with nobody on the team holding back.
The questions are:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important right now?
- Who will do what?