The Private Equity for Families Blog

Five Foes of Team Success

I participated in a one day strategy session for one of our portfolio companies where the lunch time entertainment was a You Tube video of Patrick Lencioni speaking about his business bestseller “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. I don’t know if our facilitator was suggesting our management team was dysfunctional but I know for sure we all learned something important about team dynamics. Since this was my first Patrick Lencioni experience I was not sure what to expect. He was funny and appealing and I immediately bought his book. Unfortunately it was the Kindle version and I did not buy it on a Kindle enabled device. Have you ever tried to get Amazon to help you cancel a purchase? It is not the best part of their business model.

Mr. Lencioni was brilliant. Instinctively, I understood his leadership suggestions. When you are a founder of small businesses you need to recruit and maintain strong teams.  However, I have never heard such a clear and convincing statement of the critical few dysfunctions, how they are interrelated and all grounded in one big principle. Here is the 40 minute You Tube, it’s quite good, especially the first 15 minutes: Patrick Lencioni Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Dysfunction # 1 – Lack of Trust: Good leaders fail to establish vulnerability based trust. Mr. Lencioni explains that most of us function on predictive trust. This is typical of family based relationships and old friendships where cause and effect are measured over a long period of time. Vulnerability based trust is a cliff notes version of a trust system, perfect for business where teams come together and disperse. A great leader establishes credibility by engaging his team around the leader’s acknowledged shortcomings or inadequacies. In sports my best captains could always rally the team around recognized vulnerabilities. “Guys, I need your help with my defensive end. He keeps slipping around my block and getting in the backfield. Can one of you help me double team him?” As Mr. Lancioni explains, the common leadership idea that you should never let your team “see you sweat” is nonsense. He says good teams already know when and why you are sweating. In his opinion a good leader cannot be too vulnerable.

He also cautions that even one member of the team who lacks the vulnerability gene can destroy the whole team.

Dysfunction #2 – Fear of Conflict: Conflict on teams is a good thing because it leads to engagement and commitment. It demonstrates caring. Without vulnerability based trust there can be no positive form of conflict. It will be misconstrued and misinterpreted as personal criticism and will lead to hurt feelings and, eventually, distrust.

Dysfunction # 3 – Lack of Commitment: As Mr. Lencioni puts it “No weigh in, no buy in!” He hates consensus and prefers disagreement and then commitment. While it seems a little counterintuitive, 99% of the time those who disagree, but have been heard, can commit to something they disagree with. The leader’s role is to break the tie. Ask for support from the dissenters and you will usually get it. Without commitment you get a lot of head bobbing, toothy smiles and an unrelenting passivity that usually sabotages the leader’s plan.

Dysfunction #4 – Avoidance of Accountability: Mr. Lencioni explains that the accountability you should strive for is team accountability. Peer to peer is much more accountable than coach to player or manager to employee. Do not confuse firing someone (often the “last act of cowardice”) with creating a culture of accountability. Don’t think you have shed this dysfunction because you have established a numbers based accountability either. That is the easy part and often confuses leaders who manage and promote based on numbers performance alone. Leaders who do not demand accountability cannot expect their teams to do it. Mr. Lencioni is looking for a group of peer enforcers who are empowered by team commitment and a culture of constructive conflict.

Dysfunction #5 – Inattention to Results: The Scottie Pippin story is Mr.Lencioni’s favorite. After Michael Jordan left the Bulls, this second best player became the leader. In a tight game in the playoffs without Jordan the coach called a timeout with three seconds left. He designed a play for Toni Kukoc. Scottie Pippin said “I am the best player on the team. Give me the ball.” The Coach explained that Pippin would be double teamed on the inbound pass and that Kukoc (who was a good shooter) would likely be wide open. Scottie Pippin then said “You don’t understand. I am the best player and either I get the ball or I don’t play.” The coach then sat Pippin and got the ball to Kukoc on the inbound pass. He made the shot and won the game. As Mr. Lencioni explains it, very few organizations are lucky enough to have people like Pippin who will tell you openly that it is all about them. He says most people disguise their personal agenda and emotional neediness by paying lip service to the best results for the team. These team members can neither motivate underachievers nor inspire overachievers. They want the ball (usually in all things public) whether it is best for the team result or not.

Until Mr. Lencioni’s video I had never thought about the leadership power of vulnerability. Since a clever team already knows your deficiencies, owning up should be an easy thing.  Too many leaders lack the emotional security to bind a team around shared commitment to caring and covering for each other. Because you often don’t have time to rely on predictive trust, business leaders should try vulnerability as the critical foundation for combating the other four foes of team success.

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Rob McCreary

Rob McCreary has more than 40 years of transactional experience as an attorney, investment banker and private equity fund manager, and has spent his career in building entrepreneurial organizations with successful track records Founder and chairman of CapitalWorks, he is responsible for developing and maintaining senior relationships with investors and portfolio governance.

This blog represents the views of Rob McCreary and do not reflect those of CapitalWorks or its employees. This blog is not intended as investment advice. Any discussion of a specific security is for illustrative purposes only and should not be relied upon as indicative of such security’s current or future value. Readers should consult with their own financial advisors before making an investment decision.

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