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Removing the ‘Diss’ from Dysfunction

July 15, 2011

The dysfunctional team. I was on my first one in 3rd grade.  Each day at recess we put together dodge ball teams and then took turns pounding each other with gigantic red rubber orbs.  We operated as all grade schoolers do – ‘picking teams’ so that the geeky, nerdy and non-athletic kids (yup – that would be me) were always picked last.   This was super serious business as these games were the yardstick for measuring dominance on the Kosciuszko Elementary School battlefield playground (Go Kozy!).

So each day we raced around the playground without any specific goals or strategies.  We had yet to develop any skills at working out conflict so tears and hurt feelings were a regular occurrence.  And we were chock-full of personal animosities towards each other – “Barbara looked at me funny in Reading Class yesterday; I don’t like her! Wham!”

Thankfully, in the world of adult-work, we don’t stand around and get judged picked in quite the same way –  although a grown-up version may occur when project teams are assembled.  But usually our de-facto teams are assembled merely by virtue of our being employed.  Larry Leader hires his staff and voila – a ready-made team.

But much like on that long ago school playground, there can be an element of disrespecting dissing going on in our workplace teams. So how do we fix that?  Frankly, I think it’s a matter of making sure these elements are present:

Trust and Respect – each team member needs to believe that the other gals/guys have got their back and reciprocate by demonstrating belief in the abilities of others.  My dodge ball teammates realized I didn’t have the greatest eye-hand coordination (c’mon people – I was 8!) so sadly they were loathe to choose me even though I brought the team spirit in spades!

Shared Goal(s) – to stay motivated and focused, an effective team should have specific and measurable goals on which all members agree.  Personal agendas can possibly get in the way of collective goals and if team members are unclear on purpose or direction, the team may go nowhere.  Now certainly my dodge ball team had a daily goal of winning … but we had no defined strategy or way to truly measure our accomplishments and often individual players were usually interested in just one thing – their own personal glory.

Communication – to truly be effective there needs to be information sharing with listening, attempts at understanding, and opportunities/mechanisms for gaining clarification.  Issues may arise when individual team members’ personal beliefs, mental barriers and/or opinions get in the way of the message.  But a highly functioning team will have an understanding of the why/how/when to work through those issues – and can wisely capitalize on the diversity that varied opinions and input can generate.

Attentiveness every team member owes it to the others to be involved, invested and focused on success.  A dodge ball player must be ever vigilant and can’t take her eyes off the ball lest she get taken-out-of-play to the detriment of her team. (And yes, I speak to this from personal experience…)

Commitment – all members of the team must stay the course and remain fully committed to the goals and to each other.  Players may come and go (much as in a game of dodge ball), but trust, communication and attentiveness need to be present until the game comes to an end. 

Not necessarily easy to fix.  It can be incredibly hard work to build a functioning effective team.  But I’m all for removing the DISS/DYS and working to insert the FUN back into Functional.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. HRBR permalink
    July 15, 2011 8:57 am

    Oh this reminds me of the time…. but, way too long to post here (plus, I have a tendency to be verbose at times)! It’s about my younger days (not as far back as your Kozy story) and involves a pick up game of volleyball, camp and orange juice. I’ll have to tell you about it sometime soon.

    Great post.

  2. July 15, 2011 4:48 pm

    This should be an interesting story…… 😉

  3. July 24, 2011 10:35 am

    Nice post thanks – a good list of stuff to help make teams better. I wonder, how much do you rate being positive as an indicator of great team performance? I reckon it matters – a lot, would like to know what you think.

    Oh, and though I have been here before, I found this particular post on the carnival of HR – thought you might like to know it works 🙂

    • July 25, 2011 4:38 pm

      Doug – I think that being positive (yet not pollyana-esque) as both the team leader and team members can go a great way towards building/maintaining the right dynamic. I don’t want to sit around with a bunch of phony-shiny-happy-people, but neither do I want to hang with a bunch of rejects from the island-of-the-doomed.

      An YAY for the Carnival of HR! 🙂

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