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Teamwork--Instilling Team Values Throughout the Organization

Posted by Elaine Varelas  September 5, 2011 08:00 AM

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This has been a stellar year for Boston sports teams. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the Celtics advanced to the playoffs, and the Red Sox are gearing up for another World Series win (Go Sox!).

These outstanding performances all have one thing in common: they demonstrate the importance of teamwork. How well a team functions together can make or break a game, a series, or a season. The same is true for business. Successful teams can bring on increased productivity, morale, market share and growth. Conversely, dysfunctional teams can be a drag on organizations.

Much has been written about executive coaching and development. Yet, you can only reap finite benefits from pouring resources into one person. One superstar can’t carry the team (as Boston fans have seen throughout our traditionally heartbreaking history). As every sports fan knows, it takes a team working together toward a common goal to bring an organization’s prosperity to a new level.

In Patrick Lencioni’s bestselling business book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” he describes the top reasons many teams fail, and provides practical advice for teams to overcome these pitfalls and work more cohesively. He identifies the five dysfunctions as: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. By addressing these dysfunctions, he says, teams can “trust one another, engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans, and focus on the achievement of collective results.”

Lencioni’s book is presented as a business “fable” that illustrates how these five dysfunctions can debilitate a leadership team. Of course, the executive team is a vital part of any organization’s success, but HR managers would be remiss if they only looked at team dynamics for their company leaders. HR managers should look throughout the organization to uncover what the author identifies as the five dysfunctions that can undermine a team--from leadership to interns-- and work to promote the development of a more effective leadership team and, at the same time, create a template for creating stronger teams throughout the organization.

The leadership team steers the organization, but all the other teams within the company are the gas in the engine. Achieving a truly high-functioning organization requires improving the team dynamic from top to bottom. What teams can you identify in your company in the C-suite, mid-level and lower-level? It could be R&D, sales, product development, or the call center. Each of these teams plays a role in the success of the business. Once you have identified your teams, look to see where there is opportunity for development. Are there situations where a team may need to build trust, resolve conflict, recommit, or embrace accountability? Would the exercises and advice presented by Lencioni help to improve the dynamics and functionality of the team? These issue can be identified with some simple assessment work and can be addressed with the guidelines put forth in the book.

HR managers can also start approaching all HR functions and roles in terms of teams. Most often, issues that are brought to HR are presented as interpersonal. An employee complains about a “bad” manager, or a manager has a problem with a specific employee. Yet, when there is a problem with one person in a group, it can often indicate a larger issue with the team. HR managers should take a step back and instead of focusing on the “problem person,” look at the dynamics at play. Work on team-building to address the bigger issues that may be nagging the group.

Another area where it may be beneficial to look at teams is process measurement. HR managers often look at process in terms of individual people, but it may make more sense to measure process and institute process improvement techniques for teams.

Instead of calling out and rewarding individual contributors, reward teams for good work. Rewarding teams can also encourage people to support each other so that the whole teams succeeds, instead of individual contributors.

HR managers can take a cue from the success of Boston’s sports teams this year to examine the team dynamics within their organizations. They can call on the advice of Patrick Lencioni’s book to help improve the functions of teams in the company. The leadership team is an important team to scrutinize, but HR managers should also look at the dynamics of teams throughout the organization. Even a glitch in the team cohesiveness in the mail room can be disruptive to the entire organization. By examining problems from a team point of view, HR managers can help identify and address weakness in the team dynamic and help their organizations achieve high-functioning work groups throughout the company.

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Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.