A PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 200 global companies across various sectors―involving more than 10,000 projects―found less than 3% successfully completed their plans. Similar research reveals 60%–70% project failure rates. In the United States alone, IT project failures cause estimated losses of up to $150 billion per year.
Dysfunctional teams cannot be blamed for all business failures, but they play a major role in unsuccessful projects and missed goals. In his acclaimed bestseller, organizational consultant Patrick Lencioni identifies The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- No accountability
- Lack of attention to results
Leaders must address these dysfunctions if their teams are to have any chance of success.
“The true measure of a team is that it accomplishes the results that it sets out to achieve. …It requires levels of courage and discipline―and emotional energy―that even the most driven executives don’t always possess.” ~ Patrick Lencioni, (Jossey-Bass, 2002)
Absence of Trust
Trust is the foundation for all human interactions and the key to a functional team. Lack of trust is the core dysfunction, the one that leads to all other problems. In my work as a coach, I’m astounded at the number of incidents clients tell me about that seed distrust in their organizations. As important as trust is, people will say and do things that create distrust, and act surprised at the consequences.
Several group behaviors demonstrate distrust:
- Team members may have low confidence in others.
- Team members may fear that any sign of personal weakness could be used against them. Consequently people are unwilling to be vulnerable, transparent or open when exchanging ideas or expressing their feelings.
- Team members who avoid exposure to criticism resist asking for help and hesitate before offering it to others.
A lack of trust creates defensiveness in team members, notes leadership consultant Roger M. Schwarz in Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Defensive team members feel the need to protect themselves, he explains in “Get a Dysfunctional Team Back On Track” (Harvard Business Review).
An absence of trust undermines the relationships team members need to work together successfully. Without trust, there’s insufficient communication, cooperation and participation. Leaders who want to rebuild trust can try the following strategies:
- Vulnerability: Create an environment in which team members can safely feel vulnerable. Draw out people’s personal experiences by sharing your own stories, thereby setting the proper tone and lowering barriers. Recognize that it takes determination and resolve to restore trust.
- Honest Feedback: Team members must learn how to provide feedback. Acknowledging and affirming others with constructive feedback sets the stage for positive reinforcement and encouragement. Consistent, honest feedback can then become habitual, which fortifies trust.
- Authenticity: Practice humility to tear down walls. If you and your team can admit that you don’t know everything, the experience will be freeing. Remind the team that everyone is in the same boat, everyone is in the process of learning, and no one has all the answers. Each member contributes to the group’s problems and solutions.
- Integrity: Model integrity in group dynamics. Everything you do is magnified and often copied. When you “walk the talk,” others will follow your example. Integrity and trust become contagious. Noble character (doing what’s right for each other) reduces defensiveness and distrust.