Jigsaw LLC


Dysfunctional team? Whose isn't? How to move beyond.

— Culture & Observations —

The issue of project team dynamics is one that every project manager wrestles with occasionally. If you are blessed with a team full of subject matter experts and creative geniuses – whom tend to get completely immersed in their specific deliverables – the task of making sure all these experts work together effectively often resides with the project manager. This is totally normal – and if you find yourself working with people that have smiles on their faces every day and never disagree, your team might be robots.

Facilitating functional relationships might not have been something we were prepared for as project managers (why can’t you all just get along!?) but it shouldn’t cause us to hide under our desks either (and I wouldn’t have said that if I hadn’t seen it happen).

Not surprisingly, PMI’s Project Management Book of Knowledge spends very little time discussing the skills needed to finesse a talent-stocked team into a talent-stocked team that can work together. For me, it required a little exploration into management texts.

One of my favorites is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. It was one of the first business books I ever read (probably a little later in life than I care to admit) and I often find myself remembering it/referring to it when I find myself on a project team that isn’t quite clicking to our fullest potential.

It’s a very quick read and is written as fiction –  a fable. So instead of theory, theory, blah, blah, blah, it’s a story of a team and, more specifically the individuals that make it up. Through the character builds, we see traits of our co-workers and (if open to it) a hefty dose of ourselves. For me, this approach was helpful. I encourage anyone to read the book if you haven’t already.

Here are the five dysfunctions that Lencioni identifies and my tips on how you might quickly understand if it is one (or more!) of these issues that is preventing your team from being its best.

  • Absence of Trust  – Is your team a place where people can be completely open? Have you ever talked with a team member after the meeting and heard a great idea that was withheld from the team just minutes earlier? There is a lack of trust. Trust is earned and it can’t be forced – but it can be encouraged. Ask your team members to speak up, no idea too strange, and no question too silly. Repeat these words often.
  • Fear of Conflict – Does your team get along perfectly? If so, sorry to burst your bubble, it’s likely that there is some sort of fear of conflict. Healthy conflict helps good ideas grow into great ideas. It SHOULD be present in your team meetings. Work with the team to learn to give and take constructive criticism. Encourage them with questions like, “does anyone know how we can make this idea better?” or do a quick Black Hat exercise – this formal process of “authorizing” people to bring up negative thoughts can feel less threatening when done as a team.
  • Lack of Commitment – If you sense a lack of commitment to the project, it may require a restatement of the purpose and goals. Most emotionally healthy team members will be able to commit to a well-defined goal. Going back to check if everyone is committed is also a way to identify a team member who is resisting the commitment but that hasn’t  been forward enough to say anything (absence of trust? fear of conflict?) Getting this out in the open and obtaining the committment will be a breath of fresh air for the entire time.
  • Avoidance of Accountability – Are the roles and responsibilities on your team clearly defined? Do the team members know what is needed from them, when? People are proud of the work they do. Assuming they know what to do and they are able to perform the work, if they are still avoiding accountability it is likely because they fear failure. Is there a lack of trust? See first bullet.
  • Inattention to Results – What difference does it make if it’s done, if it is not done well? If your team has slipped into “mail it in” mode, regroup around the success metrics. What? Didn’t set any success metrics? Now would be a good time to do so.

As a project manager, or any team leader, it might seem a little overwhelming to swiftly rid a team of all the dysfunctions to ensure smooth sailing from that point forward. We are all PEOPLE after all and we each have our own issues. Not to mention that a team without just a smidge of dysfunction would be very, very strange I feel.

But being aware of these 5 major issues can be a huge help when attempting to massage out a knot or overcome a rut. It’s actually a treat to identify these issues because they are almost always present in some form or another. No one likes to be distracted by less-than-ideal team dynamics. The sooner we get beyond them the faster we get to that point we all adore – working together as a team to create something amazing.

I’d like to hear more thoughts on this! Are these the most common issues you encounter in your teams and/or in yourself? What are some of the ways you move beyond?

Posted by Jigsaw