The Pillars of Competent Teams

by Yona Lunken
Thinking Skills, Inc.

There are five pillars to competent teams. In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni identifies four critical values of a team: individuals, communication, goals and trust. In the many years I have been working with organizations to develop their teams, I have added only one more component—leadership.

To develop a competent team, the trainer, consultant or development program needs to address all of these components.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a team is “two or more draft animals harnessed to the same farm implement.” That first definition always gives me pause. It does feel that way sometimes, doesn’t it? The second definition is the one we are looking for: “a number of persons associated together in work or activity.”

Individuals make up the foundational structure of the team, similar to how the numbers zero through nine make up the foundation of the number system. But, like the numbers, the people alone are not organized. The people do not have any cohesive communication, meaningful leadership or foundation of trust. The group must have unifying goals to become a team, and that is still two steps away.

Communication allows the members to share—likes and dislikes, interests and concerns. It is the beauty of communication that allows individuals to move out of self and start to understand one another’s views and respond to each other. We still don’t have a team, but we have more than just individuals. At this level, people can begin to coordinate actions, but coordinated and long-term goals are missing.

Goals provide order, and the coordination of effort begins. The emergence of goals moves a group of people toward becoming a team. The individuals, by agreeing to the unifying goal, will begin to work in unison and coordinate their efforts. Goals give structure and direction to each individual’s actions toward the group as a whole.

Leadership is like a table. If the leadership is good, you don't really notice it is there. And if it is bad, you will really miss it because there is no supporting structure for the daily workings of the team. Leadership creates the environment. Leadership starts getting the ball rolling in the right direction, sets the goal or helps the group to do so, and moves the team to start working toward this goal. As the team takes ownership of its goals, the role of the leader changes and becomes one of coaching and prodding the individuals as needed.

Trust is the backbone of the environment for high-performance teams. Trust is the belief that what is said and promised will be delivered, and that people will be protected. If there is trust, more energy can be directed toward the pursuit of the goal. Less trust and effort is wasted on watching one’s back.

I see the pillars of individuals, communication, goals, leadership and trust as a hierarchy for creating a team. First, you need the individuals, followed by the communication. Only then can you introduce goals and have the leadership take the group in the direction of those goals. All of this must take place in an environment of trust. These components constitute the first stage of building high-performance teams. iBi

Yona Lunken, (yona@pcwildblue.com) is a management consultant at Thinking Skills, Inc. (ThinkingSkillsInc.com), which provides a comprehensive approach to building high-performance teams.

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