team building

A Dysfunctional Family

How many times have you heard a co-worker use the phrase, “Oh, we’re like family around here. A big dysfunctional family, but family.” I cringe when I hear people say that.

If I’m in a job interview and someone who works for that company uses that line, I would run out that door faster than you could blink. I don’t need dysfunction in my life, and I definitely don’t need it in my office. And yet, team dysfunction, for so many organizations, feels like a wicked problem – an intractable, unsolvable issue that you just have to learn to deal with.

As an aspiring or current manager of a nonprofit, you should definitely be familiar with Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. First published in ’02, it’s been a best seller and source of management tools for more than a decade. Lencioni lists the five dysfunctions that keep a team from working together as:

  • Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
  • Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
  • Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
  • Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards
  • Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

Have you been a part of a team where these dysfunctions existed? When I was younger, I definitely tried to keep conflict out of a team environment, but the older I get, the more I see it as a necessary tool. I recently talked about the importance of conflict to a team's creative process, and you’ll see here that Lencioni agrees. He specifically mentions fear of conflict, not conflict itself, as a dysfunction of a team.

If you’re witnessing any of these dysfunctions in your organization, I recommend taking action immediately. Don’t underestimate the value of team building. Make sure your team knows that you recognize the dysfunctions are there and are committed to making them disappear. Get started by watching this awesome TED Talk about The Marshmallow Test!


Substance or Fluff? Why Team Building Matters

When you work in a nonprofit, a cohesive team is arguably the most crucial component to fulfilling the organization's mission. The stresses, heavy workloads and low compensation rates associated with being on staff at a nonprofit can create a perfect storm for dissatisfied employees, heavy turnover and the expenses related with training, hiring and lost productivity. Nonprofit employees tend to be heavily invested in the cause of their organization, which is a great thing – but can also lead to emotions running high and disagreements running rampant. Many nonprofit managers take this as an unavoidable part of the nonprofit world, but does it necessarily have to be? What steps can a manager take to build a happier, more productive team? A case study done for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) indicates that one component of successful team-building is making a purposeful activity in the strategic plan of the organization. The study, which is published on the The Center for Association Leadership's website, says AIAA was facing tough decisions regarding how to make the organization more efficient during the downturn in the aerospace industry in the early '90s. So,

"In 1996, as part of the reengineering process, AIAA decided it was necessary not just to adapt the association to the changing trends, but also to create what would eventually become an entirely new corporate culture."

The organization decided to focus on facilitating teamwork, fostering a continuous learning environment, and being more flexible and adaptive. AIAA discovered several benefits of effective team building.

The positive outcomes that resulted from this training approach included:

  • Reduction in number of required meetings as communication takes place in other forms with other tools.
  • Reduction in necessary supervision, as competent managers emerged from the team structure to handle situations more quickly.
  • Reduction in wasted resources, as most tasks are completed efficiently and right the first time since a plan was thought out and implemented.
  • Perhaps most importantly, operation under a unified, concise, and understandable strategy with supporting tactics.

Can you think of a single organization that couldn't benefit from these kinds of results? And yet, in the nonprofit world, team building is often seen as an added cost, time away from work, and an unnecessary distraction from the mission. I think that self-assessments are an important part of the team building experience. Yes, it's important to know what motivates us and why we respond the way we do, but understanding the same thing about our coworkers has a revolutionary impact on the team dynamic. It's much easier to tolerate someone's different method for achieving a task when you understand that they process information and their environment completely differently than you do.