Elephant in the room?

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October 18th, 2013

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You’re sitting in your weekly team meeting. You know everyone is thinking the same as you, “why isn’t the senior executive pulling his weight, he’s consistently late delivering his projects”. Yet nobody says anything, you keep quiet and let your frustrations simmer.

We looked at team dynamics and the impact of team member behaviour in this year’s Roffey Park’s Management Agenda survey (data collected in 2013 with the final report to be published in February 2014) and our preliminary analysis of the data reveals some interesting insights.  We have asked managers about their views on a team that they work (but not lead), based on Lencioni’s five dysfunctions. In his book, ‘Five dysfunctions of a team’, Patrick Lencioni describes the causes underlying team failure. Five key dysfunctions have been pointed out:

  •  Absence of trust – unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
  • Fear of conflict – seeking artificial harmony over constructive debate
  • Lack of commitment – feigning buy-in for group decisions
  • Avoidance of accountability – ducking the responsibility to challenge the poor behaviour of colleagues
  • Inattention to results – focussing on personal before team success

The majority of managers surveyed identified avoidance of accountability as an issue, with 58 per cent agreeing with the statement that ‘team members rarely call out each others’ deficiencies and unproductive behaviours`. So, what can individuals within teams and leaders do to address this issue?

Helping your colleagues challenge unproductive behaviour

At some point, if standards are not to fall, unproductive behaviour must be challenged and effectively so.  How this is done can mean the difference between success and failure.  One question for leaders and team members to ask themselves is ‘what is my mental model of conflict?’ ‘Do I hold certain values and beliefs around conflict that get in the way of challenging unproductive behaviour?’ ‘And if so, what and how helpful are they?’ Greater self-awareness will help to overcome personal barriers to challenging behaviour, but what other tips can help?

  • Awareness: Is the person aware that his or her behaviour is causing a problem? Or the extent of the impact of the behaviour? Giving specific feedback can be the first time a person is aware that their behaviour is experienced as difficult or is having negative consequences. Feedback about specific behaviours also helps clarify expectations. Always focus on the behaviour and avoid focusing on the person. For example instead of saying “you are a lazy person” it’s much better to say “when you are late it has these negative impacts on the team”.
  • Understand the cause: Why is he/she behaving like this? Investigating the reasons behind the person’s behaviour and listening to the person’s concerns, can help you uncover and deal with the cause rather than the symptoms of any problems. It may be that the poor behaviour is a lack of inadequate training or poor leadership in the past.
  • Giving constructive feedback: As much as it is important to be specific with feedback, it is also important to be constructive. What do you want the person to do differently, and if necessary, how they can do this? The discussion with the person may result in an action plan that supports the individual to overcome the issue and be an effective member of the team. Any plan should be flexible and be reviewed on a regular basis.