Getting your team over the 1st dysfunction...

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes a five tiered model for building high performance teams.  In his exceptional gift as a story teller, we follow the character Katherine Petersen as she takes over the reigns of a struggling technology company.  You will likely recognize the characters as you read this short book, and by the time you finish the story, you will have a much better appreciation of the five dysfunctions that cause teams, even the best ones, to struggle.

Even if you are not a "reader", invest the time in this book.  I have given away several copies to my Managers and Directors.  If you only read one book this year, make it this one!  Am I clear that I'm a big fan?

Hopefully you've ordered your copy of the book by now, and while you are waiting for it to arrive, here's a sneak preview of the first dysfunction to overcome: Lack of Trust.  This is fundamental to any relationship, and especially to high performance teams.

You can not expect optimum results from your team if they do not fundamentally trust the motives of both the other team members, and you. The challenge is that team members typically interact only around the work, they make judgments based on the other member's performance in delivering their part of the project. They don't necessarily know the person - their strengths, their challenges, their history, their motivators.

When I started as CIO at Sheridan College, I booked an hour with each of my full time team members.  Since there were over 100 people on the list, I was told I was nuts. (Sidenote: you have to be a bit crazy to do well as a CIO).  I sent the team my brief background and 3 questions to consider for the conversation:
- What is working really well around here? (This allowed them to brag a bit about the projects they were working on.
- If you were the CIO, what are 2 things you would change? (Without asking for a b*tch session, this would help me uncover the pain points from the people in the trenches)
- What do you do when you are not at work? (I wanted to know their passions - what they poured energy into when they weren't being paid)
- The bonus question was: do you have any questions for me?

All of the team came prepared with great responses, and great questions for me.  Some came in with several pages of notes.  They obviously spent a considerable period of time thinking about their answers.

One of the striking themes of the meetings was the appreciation that I would take time to listen to them, and care about more than their job).  These meetings were foundational in building the trust I needed to lead them through some challenges and change.  The value of these meetings in building the trust needed to be reinforced by subsequent actions and activities, but they were a great way to start.

We made extensive use of evaluative tools such as Strengths Finder 2.0 to help team members discover the areas of activity where they would be energized and thrive, and actually changed some job descriptions to address key institutional needs by having the right person in place delivering those services. (How often do you find "customer service representatives" that should be nowhere near any interaction with actual people?)

This blog is a catchment area for my ramblings, and I have much more to say on this subject, and will, but not now.

So consider how you'll start building trust in your team.

BTW, If you've read the book, I could really, really identify with Martin.


  1. I enjoyed reading this Kevin. I also enjoyed Pat's book - sent a copy of it as a present to the new CEO in an organisation I worked for, and she told me she had read it - and certainly her top team seemed to become less dysfunctional! Your process for building trust sounds a good one, and certainly to be recommended. Only quibble is do you really think you can call 100 people a team?

  2. The 100 people were all members of a department responsible for the delivery of a variety of IT services, out of over 1000 total employees. In the sense that they were all working to the same overarching goals, they were part of this large team. During my time I was successful in changing the mindset of IT being 5 departments, and instead hearing members talk about being part of the "IT team".

    Functionally we were more like a track and field team than a sculling team, with various areas of responsibility led by a Director or Manager. These groups were more like the traditional team.

    I hope this makes sense.