Steps to building a successful team: Part 3

The third step: overcoming dysfunction.

Teamwork is vital to any successful program, organization or grassroots effort. In today’s society we find that the need to collaborate and to share resources is imperative in order to address the needs of our community and tribal nations. When a larger group of partners and team members is involved in making decisions or program development, the more each member needs to be invested and feel a commitment to the team.

According to Patrick Lencioni, founder and president of The Table Group, who has worked with many organizations to provide training in the area of executive team development and organizational health, there are five dysfunctions of a team that he describes in his book, Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Commitment: the ability to defy a lack of consensus
  • Embracing accountability
  • Inattention to results

As a team develops, each team member must embrace and acknowledge these two concepts before a feeling of commitment is achieved. However, consensus does not not always mean commitment. It is important for team members to trust each other, to be willing to engage in conflict which in turn may not always bring about consensus.

However, the lack of consensus does not always mean a lack of commitment, it may mean they trust their leader and each other enough to be willing to disagree and share their ideas without fear of consequences. The leader has an important role in this stage of team development. They are able to drive commitment by making it possible for each team member to share their ideas and guide them through the decision-making process. As the team arrives at their final destination, it was with each teamer’s idea being validated, even if their idea was not chosen as the team’s final decision. Once the members go through this process, it is amazing to see the level of commitment from the team.

Another concept important to developing commitment is obtaining clarity. This is where the team completely understands what they had just agreed upon during their meeting. Clarity only happens when a team is able to go through exactly the decision-making process so that each member is clear about what agreements were made during their team meeting.

A team activity that Lencioni suggests at the end of each meeting is to write What exactly have we decided here today? on a white board, a poster board or sticky paper. Have the leader write down the decisions that the groups think they had made. This will allow the team to reflect what they each had thought they agreed to so that they as a team are able to clarify exactly what was agreed on.

Since each of these behaviors are interrelated, it is important to work on them together instead of approaching each issue in a silo. Patrick Lencioni developed guidelines that may assist in developing cohesiveness in an organizational team. Lencioni says that overcoming dysfunction requires the team to develop overall clarity and buy-in in order to reach commitment.

Please stay tuned for the next article on embracing accountability. To learn more about Government and Public Policy and the Leadership and Community Engagement programs offered through Michigan State University Extension, please contact Emily Proctor, Tribal Extension Educator with questions or comments at (231)-439-8927 or

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