Are you part of a highly functional team where everyone trusts one another and holds one another accountable for the team’s results? If yes, you’re the exception, not the rule, in today’s business environment.
Patrick Lencioni is a business writer and consultant with several important titles to his credit. His book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, is a refreshing run through of business fundamentals, and how most of us fail to practice them on a consistent basis.
The agency business, in particular, suffers under the needless weight of dysfunctional teams. Let’s examine the underlying problems in light of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions.
Absence of Trust
In order to develop trust, we must be willing to be vulnerable in front of our peers. But being open and vulnerable is totally unnatural at work. Experience has shown that vulnerability is a weakness. For instance, go ahead and admit to your boss or your client that you’re not good at something. Maybe they’re the understanding type who lavishes praise and encouragement, or maybe they will show their fangs and quickly look to replace you. In a hostile setting like this, it’s nearly impossible to make something of lasting value for customers. To do so, you need to endow the love you have for the client and their customers into the efforts. When you fail to take this high road, it shows. Painfully so.
Fear of Conflict
Conflict is the nature of things in the agency biz; nevertheless, agency people and clients shy away from conflict, just like everyone else today. People seem to believe that conflict is too hard. Conflict upsets people and feelings get hurt. Grudges form and all sorts of bad office politics descend to ruin what might have been a good thing. The key is being able to tell the difference between healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict. Unhealthy conflict is when team members bitch and moan and blame one another, instead of focusing on the problems before them. Healthy conflict is heated debate about the best path forward, that leaves everyone feeling good, heard, and respected. There’s a massive difference between the two and everyone in the room needs to know which is which.
Lack of Commitment
In the agency business, lack of commitment rears its ugly head in so many ways. We lack commitment to one another and to the campaigns we create. Both people and campaigns come and go, like the wind. Chief Marketing Officers last but a season or two before they’re dismissed. Lead agencies share their client’s brand caretaking duties with consultants and other specialist shops. No one seems committed to much of anything outside their own career trajectories and interests. Caring about the right things is what fixes this. Paying obsessive attention the needs of the customer is always the right thing to do. Even when a team lacks trust, fears conflict, and fails to commit to one another, the team can still commit to serving the customer above all else.
Avoidance of Accountability
Lack of personal and professional accountability is a problem that’s presently plaguing many parts of our culture. In business, it goes well beyond not being accountable for “making your numbers.” People have difficulty replying to an email today. It’s hard to say for sure what’s at the root of this, but it’s easy to point out how the problem negatively impacts people and the bottom line. Lack of communication is a form of being unaccountable. Because we work behind our screens for much of the day, there’s an illusion of distance and separateness. Thankfully, it’s not real. You can’t just check out and get away with it. Passive behaviors and pass-the-buck mentalities have no place on a high performing team. Members of high performing teams know the role they play and how to be effective in that role.
Inattention to Results
Measurable, repeatable steps to grow the business are in vogue for good reason. Clients spend a lot of money to reach their intended audiences, and as with any investment, they need to track the progress and evaluate the returns. To do that successfully, clients and agency both need agreement on which metrics matter most and then a plan to track them, analyze them, and act upon the findings. Creative agencies are notoriously bad at making direct links from their work to client profits. Clients are equally hampered by their desperate need for quarterly results. It’s a natural tension and one that can be used to propel the brand forward. It is possible to lift sales and grow revenue while winning hearts and minds, but it’s not easy. You’ll need to bring your best ideas to the table and run your team like a pro.
Patrick Lencioni’s book is called a “fable” for good reason. He weaves a tale that is familiar, but also somewhat unreal. For most teams, getting any one of the five dysfunctions ironed out is huge progress. Nevertheless, it’s good to see where the high bar is, and aim to clear it. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable is a helpful reminder of how things ought to work on a team, and how they do work when everyone’s pulling together towards a common goal.