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Dysfunctional Teams

Trust in the work place, just how critical is it to team building?

Many moons ago, we explored the concept of trust in the work place – and in recent weeks we’ve had cause to dust off and brush up on one of our favourite models of team effectiveness, which also raised the issue of the trust in the workplace, developed by Patrick Lencioni.

According to Lencioni, all teams have the potential to be dysfunctional, so to improve the functioning of a team, we need to understand the type and level of dysfunction that they exhibit.  Lencioni suggested 5 dysfunctions of a team:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results

As the title of our article suggests, trust is the key element of this model – focus your efforts here and you’ll naturally improve the other four.  We’ve found a little graphic, with trust at the bottom to demonstrate its foundational role.

Lencioni's Pyramid

Trust evaporates when team members are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes, weaknesses or need for help.  It’s impossible to build a foundation for trust without this authenticity and vulnerability.

“It’s not enough to keep your word; others have to be aware that you are doing it. And here is where it gets sticky. Like beauty, behavioural integrity is in the eye of the beholder. Consistently keeping promises and living by your stated principles are difficult tasks. Being seen as consistently doing these things is harder still.”

– Professor Tony Simons, Cornell University Professor of Management & Organisational Behaviour

So how do you go about building trust through authenticity and vulnerability in the workplace – isn’t that a little scary in fact?

In this instance, we think it’s a good thing that trust isn’t simply a switch that be thrown from on to off.  It’s not something that can simply happen overnight.  It takes time and repeated examples of the same behaviour/skill/outcome for us to build trust, but there are a few key concepts we can build on to get there quicker.

We’ll look at integrity, inclusion and humility here, but if you’d like to know more there are a couple of reads we recommend.  Ken Blanchard’s Trust Works: Building Lasting Relationships is a great foundational book, but if you’re in a rush Diana Gabriels’s 4 Components may be of more interest.

Who watches the watchers?  Building Integrity.

Whether we like it or not, we’re being watched. Our everyday words and deeds are simply there for everyone to see, so we need to be mindful of our actions and our words to ensure they’re building a coherent picture of our behavioural integrity.

Take the Blame and Share the Credit.  Humility.

Nothing breaks trust like a manager or colleague, who at the first sign of something going wrong, points the finger at others.  Who wants that person in their team?

So by contrast, someone keen to build trust will assume responsibility for mistakes, offering to learn from the situation and support others to avoid similar mistakes in the future.  Showing this level of humility repeatedly, will foster trust far earlier and better than the finger pointer.

Know it, but not all of it.  Inclusion.

Being good at what you do is a key component of building trust.  After all, how many people who are a terrible at doing X do you trust to do X?


But it’s important to position your skill and knowledge with a little humility and to acknowledge you might not know it all.  Learning when to ask questions and showing an interest in learning more is a great way to allow others to feel they’re involved in your development.  Inclusion, like intimacy is a key foundation to trust.

As Professor Tony Simons has hinted at, trust is a wonderfully fluid concept that we each experience and exhibit in different ways. There are however, several behavioural steps that we can take to foster and nurture trust within a group of people.

A critical step is to be the first person to be vulnerable. Nobody else will feel safe owning up to mistakes and taking about things they find difficult unless someone starts that trend. How about you? What could you do today or tomorrow to show a bit of your human vulnerability to the team?

If you want to read more on this subject, there’s a great deal of overlap between building trust with colleagues and building trust with clients.  We’ve written more on the latter here…

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

A fictional but compelling story built on trust.

Much like Patrick Lencioni’s other great books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team uses a fictional leadership tale, this time exploring the fascinating, complex world of teams.

As CEO of a technology company, Kathryn faces a leadership crisis: uniting a team in such disarray that it threatens to bring down the entire company.

As you read through this story of two halves, you can see how easily any one of the five dysfunctions can have a dramatic effect on team work.

Lencioni’s suggested 5 dysfunctions of a team are:

Absence of Trust
Fear of Conflict
Lack of Commitment
Avoidance of Accountability
Inattention to Results

Knowing the five dysfunctions is only half the battle, and half the book. In the second half of the book, Lencioni expands on each dysfunction and offers a course of action to address each one.

Some of these actions will seem difficult to enact in the work place, but when has leading a successful team been easy – and should it be? The most important first step is to build trust and the key is to help others trust you by being the first to be vulnerable.

Why not take the first step today and be honest with your team about something you find difficult, something you need their help with or a mistake you have made. This will help your team feel more trusting of you, which means they are more likely to open up too.

If you are looking for a better understanding of teamwork, check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.

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Five Drivers

steering-wheel-smallWhat are Drivers?

Way back in 1975 Taibi Kahler identified five common drivers that motivate us, these drivers are born in our unconsciousness and can lead to some very positive, as well as destructive behaviours.

By identifying which drivers an individual exhibits most, it becomes possible to recognise and develop the potential of these positive behaviours and how to respond constructively to the negative.

These drivers result in the behaviour that we exhibit to the wider world and find their roots in our unconscious. We’ve put together a guide to the 5 drivers and a questionnaire to help you identify which of the five driver types you naturally have a preference for.  Or more likely, which blend of drivers you have.

For more information on the five drivers download this:



To use the interactive online version of this questionnaire follow me, or to take the paper based test, download this:





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Belbin Team Wheel

Totem-WheelUnderstanding how teams work

When a group of people work together with a clear purpose, the autonomy to do what they are naturally great at, combined with complementary approaches to getting things done, amazing things can be achieved.

The reality is of course that we rarely work in such high performing teams.  Why don’t we always see such amazing outputs from the teams we work with?

Often it’s because teams have been pulled together from the people who are available, willing to volunteer, or those with the technical expertise or experience required.  That’s not necessarily the best way to get a great team.  We’re often working hard to make the best of a far from ideal situation.

When we want a good team, we often focus our efforts on making sure we have people who have the technical expertise or experience we need.  Have we got someone with leadership experience on the team for example, who can cover Finance, HR, Operations of some kind, and so on…

Whilst this approach can be very helpful for making sure you have the knowledge around the table that’s critical, it is not the fundamental ingredient for great teamwork. What if all the people around the table are risk averse?  Or all but one team member are creative types, and there’s one person who is more interested in implementing?

Totem Lollipops

So part of what makes a great team is having a group of people working to their strengths, and appreciating the benefit each other person brings.  It’s helpful to understand the different aspects of work and the different styles or preferences that we tend to see and one way to dig into how we can build a great team is to use the Belbin Team Wheel.

Belbin Team Wheel

Each person in a team will have aspects of that wheel that they have natural strengths in. Here’s a breakdown of those strengths:

Plant – Generating ideas on what to do

Coordinator – Coordinating people, delegating tasks and keeping the focus on the overall goal

Investigator – Connecting with people outside of the team, networking and kick-starting momentum

Shaper – Energising people to get to the desired outcome at pace and maintaining momentum

Specialist – Pulling in specialist expertise as required to get the job done

Evaluator – Critically evaluating the work and managing risks

Team Worker – Keeping people in the team happy

Implementer – Getting on with the tasks to be done

Finisher – Checking everything has been finished and done correctly

There are benefits and downsides to each of these preferences or natural styles of working, which is why having a team made up of too many people with one style can be damaging or make it difficult to achieve your goals.  So it’s important to have a blend of working styles within a team – not simply the technical expertise required to achieve a specific goal.

The key to using the Belbin Team Wheel effectively is to develop a better understanding of these different ways of working, and how we can make the best of them.  A few tools that can help develop your understanding of others can be found in Transactional Analysis and Kahler’s Five Drivers.

Feel free to hop on over to Belbin and take a closer look.

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