Contractor Tip of the Month: The Dysfunctions that Destroy Teamwork

Words: Damian Lang

Damian Lang

Teamwork is the ultimate company advantage and a remarkable sight when you see it in action. While it is a word that leaders freely toss about, like it is a common reality, the truth is teamwork does not just happen. 

There is a lot of effort involved in getting your team to collectively move forward with single-mindedness of purpose. You may have the perfect business model, but it requires the buy-in of everyone. When that does not happen, you must identify the obstacles that are preventing you from having a cohesive and effective team.

Imagine a work environment where everyone puts the interests of others first, where supervisors and employees freely mentor one another, where taking risks is encouraged, and people are given credit for their accomplishments – a place where everyone is open to new ideas, truth and honesty are common, and trust abounds. It is a CEO’s dream, but getting to this place can be a nightmare if you do not teach and practice it every day. 

The late, great Vince Lombardi described teamwork perfectly. He said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” 

Picture yourself playing quarterback in the Super Bowl. You huddle up and call a play. To your detriment, a wide receiver and lineman are not confident in your decisions, so they are not tuned in and completely miss what you say. When the ball is snapped, your wide receiver cuts right instead of going down the field, so there is no one to catch your pass. Worse still, your lineman fails to block a rusher, and you are wide-open to get smashed. At this point, what the other nine players do is irrelevant. Will you make that play? Short of a miracle, no way.

As the CEO of eight companies, I am in meeting after meeting with our teams. We huddle up and discuss a range of topics, including planning, scheduling, forecasting, and goal setting. I leave some meetings knowing the team is all on the same page and ready to tackle the world. However, at other meetings, I am not even certain if they are playing the same game. Without fail, the companies that produce the best results and are much more profitable are the ones where everyone is on the same page. 

In the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, he identifies the five dysfunctions as:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results 

I found Lencioni’s book insightful and relevant to some of the issues I experience at our companies. Therefore I am striving to align his message with our companies’ goals to effectively change the dynamics of our teams.

Absence of Trust 

I believe trust must prevail in your organization, or all other elements go out the door. 

Even the best teams struggle to work together to overcome distrust and office politics to achieve important goals as a cohesive, effective team. This is often due to egos and distrust getting in the way of building a well-performing team. 

In my experience, those who lack trust in others are usually the least trustworthy themselves. Therefore, team members are afraid to speak up in meetings and express their opinions because they believe there will be repercussions. Out of fear, they hide issues and new ideas. As a result, the business suffers.

If you want your team to be on board and drive initiatives, encourage them to openly share their opinions. Then make sure they know you heard and understood their message.

Fear of Conflict

Every good movie has conflict. The storyline starts on a positive note, adds in a problem someone is having, and in the end, they resolve the issue. Good meetings are no different. They need to start with everyone bringing the issues to the surface, so they can be solved. If they remain hidden, they linger, and the team pays the price. 

You can unite your people by inspiring them to get behind a shared vision or goal. Having a clearly identified destination can prevent individuals from pulling in different directions, which is frustrating and ineffective.

Lack of Commitment 

Commitment must be displayed by everyone throughout the company, starting with me. There are no exceptions. If one of my team members thinks that I am not living our fundamentals, they have my permission (without repercussion) to call me out! 

A job should not provoke stress or be a workplace that people dread. Employees should look forward to going to their jobs. While the work may be challenging, the culture should not add to the pressure. On the contrary, culture should be designed to alleviate work-related stress. If so, employee retention will soar because they enjoy the work, their co-workers, and the atmosphere.

Avoidance of Accountability 

Remember the kid on the team who was the ball hog at every game? It was discouraging to every other kid who wanted to play, and many times they gave up on the game altogether. The ball hog in meetings is the one who knows it all and is adamant that everything goes his way. He tells everyone what needs to be done instead of asking questions. Because he is directing instead of listening and leading, he is unwittingly releasing his team from accountability of outcomes. 

No one has all the answers, including the person at the top. The best decisions are made by those who are closest to the issue at hand. Management must trust the individuals on the front line. A company where only top managers make decisions is a surefire way to send A and B players away to other companies.

Employees want to have a voice and a meaningful impact on the company and its direction. They should know that anyone can win a debate with even the most senior person in the company. They need to know that you encourage them to create a way to work more efficiently and effectively without the need for management’s approval.

Inattention to Results

We must eliminate the “us versus them” and the “we are better than they are” notions. If not, then team members are only in it for themselves, and the collective concept is crushed. Elite individuals or groups undermine the principles of teamwork. 

It is important to realize that as a leader, you are also a teacher. Our people are looking at us all the time, consciously and unconsciously, and they are learning from us which behaviors are acceptable, what is considered to be high performance, and what really matters.

How is your team functioning? Are you striving to get everyone in sync and remove the dysfunctions? Teamwork only happens when everyone is on the same page, pursuing the same goal. I encourage you to get a system in place — write it down and practice it every day. When you do, you will see that teamwork effectively connects the dots from trust to profits.


BIO

Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, 3 Promise Labor Services, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection and Safety Company, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make job sites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email dlang@watertownenterprises.com, or call 740-749-3512.

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