by Risa Simon, CMC
Most businesses yearn to attract "good people" to help them run their operations more effectively. Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that good people who work independent of one another are not good enough to ensure growth or profitability. The most prevalent ingredient missing in any business infrastructure today is true collaboration. Simply put: Talented people working together for the greater good of all can be the single most competitive advantage in any company.
While this sounds fairly straightforward and rather simple to achieve, it appears that most teams relentlessly struggle with this concept. The fact is that most teams are made up of imperfect human beings who inherently contribute to dysfunctional behavior. In fact, these dysfunctions actually tempt individuals to corrupt team synergy just to stay ahead.
Even if this doesn't sound familiar in your place of business, you may be surprised to find an underlying layer of tension exists within your team environment, particularly when the team hasn't developed a strong level of trust. Without trust, teamwork is impossible. Team members must have confidence in the intentions of their group or they'll never participate as a team. When intentions are perceived for the greater good, there is no reason to withhold, exclude, or gossip about others. When intentions are focused on mutual benefits, the team reaches out to ensure that everyone succeeds.
The best way to gain trust in any situation is to start by exposing vulnerabilities. This is the most important action a leader can take to encourage team members to become vulnerable. Leaders also must demonstrate their own vulnerability first.
Appropriate vulnerabilities to share within the work place might include job weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, and the ability to admit to making an error. In other words, teammates must be willing to reveal their true selves to one another, without fear of reprisal.
Needless to say, exposing vulnerabilities is almost unheard of in this competitive marketplace, particularly when self-advancement takes precedence. When this is the case, individuals will tend to spend their time calculating disingenuous or political moves, rather than concentrating on their connection and accountability to one another.
There are detrimental costs when these destructive instincts cannot be "turned off." When there is a lack of trust, even your most valued employees can end up sabotaging their group, regardless of their years on the job, past track record, or management degrees. This process wastes an inordinate amount of time and energy managing dysfunctional behaviors, which keeps the group from reaching collective goals.
While cognizant of the need for help, teammates hesitate to ask for it (or offer it up), particularly when there is a lack of trust. This lack of support causes individuals to jump to conclusions about the intentions of others, which reinforces their desire to work independently.
To overcome this dysfunction, teammates must be willing to share an in-depth understanding of one another. Revealing information about their families, upbringing, or unique challenges which contributed to their adult personalities provides insight into individual character. This exercise is more conducive to an off-site, retreat-like setting without distractions of the work environment.
During this process, teammates can delve deeper by identifying the single most important contribution each member brings to the table. This exercise can be accompanied by identifying one or two behaviors the team feels could be improved or eliminated for the greater good of the group.
In addition, a personality profile like Myers-Briggs, DISC, or David Kerisey's "Character Temperament Typing" would be an excellent exercise to complete this process of understanding one another. Understanding personality or temperament types becomes vital to the success of any business, particularly in dentistry, since the work environment positions individuals so close to one another.
Character-typing identifies your ability to lead and allows you to put your strengths to their best possible use. Awareness of character also helps individuals understand their shortcomings and, for the first time, explain how these shortcomings stifle team effort. Understanding differences in temperament also can help you recognize why people are different and why they approach their tasks in a different manner than you do. Understanding these differences honors individual uniqueness, rather than allowing differences to be a source of aggravation and distraction.
Bottom line: When there is a lack of trust, teammates will be reluctant to voice their opinions and engage in what Patrick Leoncioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, calls "healthy debate." We know from experience that all great relationships require productive communication or even passionate conflict. I refer to this as having a "breakdown for a breakthrough." Without passionate, productive conflict or debate, the best possible solutions cannot be born.
Encourage healthy debate
To get over this hurdle, leaders must encourage healthy debate. This may require the leader to begin with what author Randall Tobias, author of Putting The Moose on the Table, refers to as taking that which is known — but not disclosed — and putting it "out there" for productive resolution. This process requires courage to look at the issues with genuine desire to work through them for productive closure. By engaging in productive conflict and revealing individual perspectives and opinions, a team can commit to change. Commitment requires clarity of action, sharing of opinions and insights, and most importantly, being heard! While everyone may not have the same opinions — and most are likely to have a wide variance of perspectives — the opportunity to have your feelings considered may be the single most important ingredient for a genuine "buy-in." Conversely, when caught at a standstill, the process of agreeing to disagree may be the only possible avenue to retain respect and momentum.
Without commitment, a team cannot begin to collaborate towards group accountability. To hold one another accountable, the team must have complete clarity and agreement on the precise expectations of each team member. For example, team members need to know who needs to deliver what and by when. Ambiguity can be rather mischievous in the process of collaborative teamwork. That said, team members need to regularly communicate their performance objectives and outcomes. Team incentives also can encourage a higher level of team accountability, particularly when they are used above and beyond individual acknowledgement.
Be mindful of teams that lack the desire to strengthen team accountability. Individuals who are not being held accountable for collaborative efforts will turn their attention to their own needs, sabotaging the remaining functioning parts. It is essential to always have a relentless focus on team outcomes. To that end, results should not be measured by revenue or profit alone. Ideally, rewards need to be designed to honor human behaviors, as well as collaborative actions that significantly contribute to bottom-line results.
The key to achieving a functional team does not come from mastering sophisticated theory, but from embracing uncommon levels of human dynamics. Encourage your team members to share their vulnerabilities. Invite them to build a strong level of trust with one another. Allow them to engage in healthy debate, so they can feel heard and "buy in" to a plan of action. By gaining their commitment, you will inspire a united front of individuals who are determined to see their group succeed. Their determination to collaborate for the greater good will sustain accountability and become your most powerful source of profitability.