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How to establish cohesive and high-performing teams

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Have you ever walked along a riverbank as a rowing team glides by? It almost seems effortless, doesn’t it? They cut through the water like a hot knife through butter. They’re completely in sync; eight people rowing as one team. It’s pretty impressive. I think so, anyway!

It takes focus and discipline to achieve that level of synchronisation, if just one rower were to lose his or her stroke or drop an oar, the boat and therefore the entire team would be thrown off kilter. Progress would slow as a result, or worse the team would fail to arrive at its destination.

Now think about your organisation. Does your team operate in sync? Does every team member understand what they are responsible for? Do you trust each other? Do you hold each other accountable? Are you all heading in the same direction?

Patrick Lencioni, world renowned Author and Founder of The Table Group, uses this rowing team analogy in his book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’.

As you can probably suss out, he identifies five behaviours that are critical to building cohesive teams, regardless of what your organisation does or what sector you work in; if there’s trouble in ‘team paradise’, it can be narrowed down to one of these five dysfunctions...

  1. Absence of TRUST
  2. Fear of CONFLICT
  3. Lack of COMMITMENT
  4. Avoidance of ACCOUNTABILITY
  5. Inattention to RESULTS

“If you could get all the people in an organisation rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” - Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

So, in a nutshell, for your team to be cohesive and high-performing, trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and attention to results must be present.

And that order is important. Picture a pyramid, with trust at the base. Trust leads to healthy conflict, which leads to greater commitment, which leads to accountability, which ultimately leads to results.

Let’s break it down further…

Trust is the foundation for creating not only a productive team, but a high-performing one. More specifically, vulnerability-based trust. When team members are able to be vulnerable with each other and are willing to admit to their shortcomings and mistakes, a culture of trust can exist.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but conflict within a team is actually a good thing...provided it’s impersonal and focused on issues in the pursuit of truth. It’s essential to establish vulnerability-based trust first, otherwise conflict can become personal and political and a little bit messy. But when the conditions are right, conflict allows all team members to engage in honest, open and passionate debate about important issues within an organisation.

So you’ve built a base of trust and you’re able to engage in healthy conflict, which lays the foundations for commiting to key decisions and clear direction or purpose. Even if individuals don’t agree with the final decision on an issue, provided that they’ve been able to voice their opinion and know that their views have been considered, they can fully commit to that decision.

The next building block in the pyramid leads team members to hold one another accountable for their actions and behaviours for the overall good of the organisation. In other words, it gives people the confidence to call each other out if they’re not delivering. This is born from healthy conflict and it’s not personal; it’s about setting clear expectations and holding each other to those expectations.

Finally we have attention to results, aka the endgame. Where we see a lot of businesses or teams fail is putting results above all else. But without a solid foundation, the top of the pyramid would simply crumble. Each team member should be accountable for the collective goals and results of the team, rather than prioritising their own individual needs. Once teams have established trust, healthy conflict, commitment and accountability, they can focus on the collective responsibility of achieving results for the business.

Building a cohesive, well-aligned, high-performing leadership team takes time and a lot of effort - there are no shortcuts to building that pyramid, or to achieving the same level of synchronisation as a well-oiled rowing team. But it is the first step in creating a healthy organisation, one in which people can thrive and business excels.

If you want to find out more about what it takes to build high-performing teams, I’d love to connect. You can find me on LinkedIn.

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