This One Leadership Mistake May Be the Cause of Your Team Dysfunction

By David W. Hasenbalg

CEOs and senior leaders often ask THRUUE to help them deliver on their strategy and vision, and one of the biggest challenges in doing this is understanding what happens AFTER you have your strategy and vision. How do you bring them to life?

In short, the answer is nurturing an environment where real teams can form and then unleashing the power that those teams create. This happens through open conversations between team leaders and team members about what it means to be on THIS team. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It can be—if you understand key elements of a team. To set context (and perhaps dispel common myths about teams), here are three:

  1. Teams are the primary mechanism by which most outcomes in an organization are produced, whether it is a project team, a department, an executive leadership team, a board of directors, a sports team, a musical group, etc. These are just different incarnations of teams that exist to produce outcomes.
  2. Teams exist to produce an outcome that is bigger than what the individuals could do by themselves, or to use the adage, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ Each member of the team needs the others to be successful. The team leader specifically needs all team members to fulfill their roles on the team to be successful.
  3. Teams thrive when they have a common performance objective. Imagine the power that is possible with a small group of people so committed to something larger than themselves that they will not be denied.

 The Common Breakdown

THRUUE has worked with hundreds of teams and the leaders who are put in place to ensure their team succeeds. When we examine the teams that have crashed and burned—the ones where passive aggressive control and petty bickering took priority over delivering results—there is one critical red flag that they all have in common: they never talked about HOW to be a team. 

Don’t think that this common breakdown is unique to new managers or first-time supervisors. Far from it.

Recently, we were talking to the CEO of a client organization as he spoke about the senior leadership team and how well it works. This assessment of his team’s performance was based on outcomes: the things they did.

But the team also had some very obvious interpersonal challenges. Several of the team members didn’t trust each other; they may have even disliked each other. This mistrust was so obvious that it became something of a joke to everyone else on the team when a particular topic would come up. Yet the CEO (the team leader for the senior leadership team) refused to address these issues. More than once he would scoff at the word ‘trust,’ saying, “What does that even mean? Everyone just needs to put on their big kid pants and act like grown-ups.”

The leadership lesson here is simple: if you don’t talk about being a team, you will never act like a team. And if you don’t act like a team, you will never produce results worthy of the team’s potential.

 Your Next Conversation

Whether you are a leader newly responsible for the performance of a team or you are on a team that isn’t performing to its potential—have the conversation. You will probably be surprised at how quickly performance improves.

Learn More about Team-Based Culture Transformation.

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