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Evidence Management Leadership Series: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

May 27, 2021

In this webinar, Ben Townsend – the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products – discussed The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as part of his Leadership Series to help promote personal and professional development for evidence managers.

He began by saying, “I believe dysfunction occurs by simply doing nothing. In fact, the less you do, the more dysfunction will become a part of your life. So, today we’re going to discuss how to minimize dysfunction by coming up with ways to better deal with it. 

From dysfunction, we get dysfunctional. It’s very possible that some of you are operating within dysfunctional situations. I have some of my own dysfunctional things I’m dealing with. 

Let’s go with Webster’s dictionary version of what is dysfunctional. It is abnormality or impairment in the function of a specified bodily organ or system. We’re going to be talking about dysfunction of a system in a work environment. The second description is: Dysfunction is a deviation from the norms of social behavior, typically in a way that is regarded as bad.

It would be very difficult to come up with some sort of a concept where dysfunction is a good thing. Dysfunction is always bad. 

There are some funny posts I ran across… 

The reason I added the last one is because it is very possible that you’re not in a dysfunctional work environment. Or, maybe you feel you’re not in a position to control the dysfunction that’s in your work environment. I think that everything we’re going to talk about here today could apply to other dysfunctions in your life: family, your spouse, your children, your church. Dysfunction is everywhere.

This presentation is geared toward a work environment and a team environment, but it can apply to many other situations out there. I think we can all probably say there is some definite dysfunction within our families. I know mine has it. If some of my family were here, they might say, Yes, there is dysfunction, and you are the dysfunction.

RELATED: WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT IN YOUR AGENCY?

All right… The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, written by one of my favorite authors, Patrick Lencioni is a book I read some time ago. I dusted it off, and re-read some of the things that were in there.

I want to reiterate…I don’t have the market on leadership. I’m trying to learn. So, as I went through the book, there were some things that popped back up and I was like: Oh man, I don’t believe we have a dysfunctional team here. Certainly, there are things that might look dysfunctional. And, there’s always room for improvement, even in Tracker’s environment; which I think is relatively low on dysfunction.

I want to give Patrick Lencioni all the credit for what I’m going to show you today because it came directly out of his book. I’m sharing a lot of what he has said, because it has been so valuable in my life. 

One of the things he tries to bring together in the Five Dysfunctions of a Team is this pyramid diagram…

The five different dysfunctions go into these five different sections of the triangle. One of the things he points out in the book is that they certainly build one on top of the other, but each one of these dysfunctions need to be addressed. You may say, I’m really good on four of the five, but I’m really bad on one of them. 

Any one of those dysfunctions is enough to cause serious problems within your team. So, it is important to focus on all five of them. We’re going to go through these five and I’m going to give you some of the good and bad aspects of each of them. 

Then, I’ll share some things he suggests for helping to overcome those dysfunctions. Another great thing about Patrick Lencioni’s books is he spends the first two thirds to three quarters of the book telling you a fable. A story that is filled with – in this case – dysfunction. It’s really easy when you’re reading a story, that is not true, because it is so relatable. 

The back end of the book is where he summarizes it all. I’m literally going right to the back end of a book. But, if you hear this today and you’re like, Wow, that’s really cool. I’d like to dig into it a little bit more, definitely get that book. 

Dysfunction Number One: The absence of trust 

If you don’t trust people in your group, you don’t feel like you can be open. You think people are going to take things you say and maybe even use them against you.

Some of the things that result from a lack of trust are…

Members of a trusting team will… 

Members that are a part of trusting teams will admit their weaknesses and mistakes.

They’re willing to do that because they know their team is not going to use the information against them.

As for number five on that list, politics is one of the most frustrating things that I see in the public sector. Many times in police and law enforcement a lot of people are acting in political ways, and it makes for a dysfunctional environment. 

In regards to the dysfunction of a lack of trust, what are some things that you can do to begin to move in that direction and build up trust within your personal or professional environment?  

Consider these suggestions…

We did exercise number one with our team of 26 people. During our weekly team meeting, one person would show up and have a PowerPoint ready, that would be all about them: their background, their families. By doing this, you’re building up an interest in that person, because you know more about them. 

Many of you probably know Rob in our office. I found out that back in his high school days, he was big into heavy metal. I had no idea. If you know, Rob D’Costa, the idea of him being into heavy metal… that’s the furthest thing from your mind. When I learned that about Rob, I was like, That’s really cool. 

So, if you want to learn to trust people, learn more about them. 

Number two on the list above definitely involves more risk. It’s going to make some of you sweat. Identify the most important contribution that each of the peers makes to the team, as well as one area to prove on or eliminate for the benefit of the team.

Can you imagine sitting down with your team in a group and saying, If you were to change one thing about me, that would be most effective for this team, what would it be? 

This is where the leader of the group goes first, because that’s where the example is set. And if the leader is humble enough to say, Hey, tell me what you would change that loosens it up and lets everybody else know, Hey, we can be free to comment on this stuff because he or she is willing to be vulnerable. It’s an effective way to show that you’re willing to change and grow and build trust. 

The third one on the list: Have your team members take a Myers-Brigg personality test. You won’t believe how much you learn about a person, when you sit down and go through those personality types. There are things that came out about our team, where I was like, Oh my goodness. That’s why they do that thing that they do. 

It’s not that it’s bad. It’s just the way they operate. When you begin to learn that stuff, you’re more empathetic to people. You’re willing to understand them more. In fact, you will build trust with them, so that when you do have to dig into a problem you’ve already built the trust. That’s why trust is such an important foundation. If you don’t have trust with your team, none of the rest of this is going to matter.

The last one on there that he suggests is: Do some sort of a 360 degree feedback. It’s when you do an annual review and you ask your people to review you in order to improve. When you have that kind of trust, it really opens things up.

Dysfunction Number Two: The fear of conflict

Conflict is a part of every team. It’s inevitable. You’re going to have conflict in your marriage. You’re going to have it with your kids. How you go about dealing with that conflict is going to determine the level of dysfunction you have. You cannot avoid conflict. It’s going to be there. How you deal with it is absolutely critical.

There’s nothing wrong with having some conflict. You guys should hear some of our meetings. I mean, we have people with very strong opinions on topics. But, the one thing I do love about our team is that when we’ve hammered it out, we’ll leave with a mutual respect for what the other person had to say. Even if they don’t agree with the resolution going forward, they had their opportunity to share their thoughts.

We try to extract and exploit the ideas of all the team members. We solve problems quickly. If some of you saw the way we go about doing things here, it would be astonishing to see how quickly a problem comes up and how quickly a problem goes away. 

RELATED: LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT – CREATING POSITIVE CHANGE PART 1

My guess is that for many of you in your environment, there could be conflicts that go back 20 years, and people are still pissing and moaning about whatever it is because they’re so stuck in the idea that, We can’t have conflict. Generally, it’s because there’s no basis of trust to begin with. Also, in environments where you deal with conflict, you minimize politics. 

Dysfunction Number Three: Lack of commitment

It’s hard to get people to commit to things because they’re so afraid of other people seeing that they’re going to fail. Well, guess what? Failure is a part of life. It’s a potential part of every endeavor. And, if your team has your back and you’re willing to get into conflict and deal with it, you’re going to worry less about failure. Because if it happens sometimes your team is going to have your back.

When teams commit… 

When everybody has gotten their opinion out there and you’re prepared to move forward, you can move forward with unity. And there is no room for second-guessing. Teams that commit, create clarity about direction and priorities. It aligns the entire team to have common objections. 

There are going to be objections. But, you rally around common objections and work through those things by developing the ability to learn from mistakes. That’s critical in life. There are going to be mistakes. There’s going to be failure. That was just an opportunity to learn.  

In environments where people do commit, there is a change in direction at a drop of a hat. That happens all the time around here. When we bring on new people, I’ll say: You are going to be astonished by the pace around here. We will see something that needs to change and we will change it. We learn from our mistakes and we operate without hesitation. Then all those other things come into play.

So, what are the things you can do to create commitment among your team?

At the end of every meeting, outline the goals and objectives and who is responsible for dealing with them. Don’t end the meeting without saying, All right, we went through all of this. Here are the five things we all agreed and committed to. Who’s responsible for getting this done? The second part of that is, put a deadline on it. Put a deadline in place for the task or objective and hold everybody accountable.

That is so important as we get into the next dysfunction…

Dysfunction Number Four: Avoidance of accountability

The fourth common dysfunction of a team that avoids accountability… it creates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance. I mean, listen, we try to avoid those team members at all costs. 

We want everybody around here to be operating at a high level of performance. We expect that out of everybody. But, it may very well be that somebody within your team does not have the same level of standard of performance. If that’s the situation, it really creates resentment; especially for people that overachieve. 

Avoiding accountability encourages mediocrity. People that do perform at a higher level, they’re more likely to say, Well, they’re not performing at a high level. What does it matter if I do? And before you know it, it’s dragging everybody down. 

Your team will miss deadlines and key deliverables. That will become commonplace. Those deadlines that you put in place, they just come and go. And, nobody says a word. 

Avoiding accountability also places an undue burden on the team leader who has to become the sole source of discipline. Think about being in an environment where sources of discipline can come from any level and people are okay with that. It’s a shocking concept that it doesn’t have to be the highest person on the totem pole who is the only one dishing out discipline. 

Teams that do hold each other accountable…

You want everybody to feel some pressure about not letting down the team. Everybody knows what’s going on. We’ve all agreed to everything. We’ve agreed to commitment terms and deadlines and everything else. And when they’re not met, your team is going to know it. And, people are going to look at them and say, You had a deliverable today. Why did you not meet that? 

Odds are, you won’t have to have that discussion, because they’ll do whatever it takes to get that thing done before they even show up to the meeting. 

Excessive bureaucracy is rampant in the public sector. We’ve got performance appraisals and a whole process where we run people up the totem pole. We should deal with those things at the lower levels. Get that bureaucracy out of it, and get it to where people hold each other accountable. 

Suggestions for creating accountability…

Publication of your goals and standards may be as simple as hanging them on a wall; making it clear that this is what we’re committing to. 

Regarding simple and regular progressive reviews; we meet every week as a team. Within our teams, some of them meet every day. For example, our development team has what we call a Sprint. Every two or three weeks, we’ll have a list of things that need to be done within that Sprint. Things that the development team agreed to complete. 

So, every day they will meet as an individual team to see where they’re at. Are we on task? Are we off task? Do we need to do something and move things around? Weekly, I will meet with the person that’s in charge of all of that. That cuts down on getting to the three week cycle or two week cycle where it’s like, Well, that was a disaster. Nothing got done that we wanted to get done. 

Last on that list is team rewards versus individual rewards. Doing team rewards is far more effective than individual rewards.

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Dysfunction Number Five: Inattention to results 

You can have trust with each other and you can have conflict, but if you don’t sit down and look at the goals and objectives – and whether or not you met those results – you’re going to get all the way to the pinnacle of the pyramid, and then you’re going to fall apart because you don’t focus on results. 

Teams that are not focused on results, they stagnate. They failed. I have been there before. A lot of what started this leadership research five years ago was because I thought, We are not growing. I honestly thought everybody else was the problem. One day I realized where the problem was. It was me. We were a stagnant team. We were failing to grow. There were 8 employees at the time. We are now 26. 

It wasn’t something I did. I simply got out of the way. I started teaching some leadership principles to people. I empowered them. And, we started to employ a lot of what we’re going over right now, and it had its own effect. Now, I just try not to mess it up every day. 

Okay….Teams that are not focused on results, they rarely defeat their competitors. They’re just happy with the status quo.

You will also lose achievement-oriented employees. They’re not going to hang around your environment because the dysfunction is so rampant. I may be stepping on toes, but that’s what really stinks about the public sector. Your ability to move up and down the pay scale is based on time and very little performance effect. It’s so discouraging to everybody to be doing that. 

When you’re not focused on results, it encourages team members to focus on their own careers and individual goals. Have you ever heard somebody say, I’ve only got five years to go. I’m getting paid. When it’s all about the individual, it never works in a team environment. 

And number five is: easily distracted. Instead of sticking with what your game plan is, you’re bouncing around from this to that. There’s no understanding of what the overall plan is. 

When teams do focus on collective results… 

And, when teams focus on collective results, they retain achievement oriented employees, for sure. It minimizes individual behavior because we’re in it for the team. We grow as individuals when the team grows.

Have you seen that in your environment, where people do subjugate their own goals and interests for the good of the team? It is a delight when you see that happen. 

And then number four, you avoid distractions. You know exactly what you’re doing. You know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, and all the distractions of the day do not have an impact on what you’re doing.

To summarize, let’s go back over these five things… 

You want trust. You’re building trust and it requires a vulnerability. You’re going to risk somebody making fun of you. You’re going to risk falling flat on your face. The way you build up trust is you don’t worry about those things. You show yourself as being vulnerable. And when people are being vulnerable around you, it builds up trust.

Healthy conflict implies candid debate. To be able to speak your opinion without fear of retribution, you’ve got to be in an environment where people aren’t trying to take advantage of other people. You should be able to say something because you’re willing to deal with conflict. 

Third, lack of commitment. Commitment follows healthy conflict. Hear all + disagree > decision > buy-in > one voice. I believe with our team, everybody has a seat at the table to make their opinion known. We may disagree. We work through it. A decision is finally made. We get buy-in and we move forward with one voice. 

All of these things take hard work. Like I said at the very beginning of this, the way to get all of these things messed up, and create a functional dysfunctional environment, is to simply do nothing.

Dysfunctionality number four: Avoidance of accountability. Accountability requires commitment; 100% buy-in. 

And then the last one: Inattention to results. You must focus on delivering measurable results. Pay attention to collective and individual accountability. And, be open to feedback. .

As I said, when we started this discussion, the objective here is to minimize dysfunction. You are not going to get rid of it. You are trying to minimize it. It takes really hard work. 

If you don’t know where to go and what to do, get your team together and sit down to do a couple of those basic things. Just get people talking with each other. If you are the leader, tell your team what some of your worries are. Show some vulnerability. When you do that, people will follow along. 

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to give you something productive to think about during this time of uncertainty… a series of free evidence management training and panel discussions. Watch and comment on the webinars here. Or – to get in on the discussion, with nearly 600 other evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.

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