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Why Teams Fail

Posted Thursday, October 15, 2009, at 12:06 PM

I believe in teams. I am not just talking about teams filled with athletes but also seeing business leadership as a team, the church as a team and even the family unit working together as a team.

Throughout my life I have had the privilege to work on many different types of teams. My earliest memory of being on a team was when I played baseball for the Twilight Optimist. I still have the trophy, even though the bat that the player was holding is bent and I have long since lost the name plate...but we won and I treasure that first experience of team.

Later in life I developed my team skills through the military. I understood how important it is was for each person to fulfill there role or the team's mission may suffer or even experience the loss of human life.

When I was discharged from the Army I went to work at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft in St. Louis. Over the next few years I was able to move into management and was promoted several times. We were taught the Japanese management style and how they had achieved unprecedented levels of success. Under the Japanese management style, the organization is one where all employees are regarded as members of a team and everyone's input is equally important. This was in direct opposition to the traditional American style of top-down management....where the prevailing philosophy is "I'm the boss and you do as I say" (which by-the-way is the poorest and least productive style of leadership).

When I became a pastor in 1986 that same "top-down" style of leadership was prevalent in most of our churches. However it was creating a lot of conflict becuase of the poor definition of roles. Some thought it was the biblical style of leadership and others saw leadership from more a shared or team concept.

I grew up in a home with a patriarchal leadership. Dad was the leader, what he said happened, and there was little room for argument or discussion. Mom's role was primarily to support him and his decisions. While I am sure they had their own private conversations about his decisions it didn't appear to be a team style of leadership. Today many families struggle because of differing views of leadership and roles in the home.

A few years ago when I was the Director of Congregational Ministries for the General Baptist denomination I had the privilege to hear Patrick Lencioni speak on "The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team". I had the opportunity to teach this to many churches and even some local businesses. What he had to say was profound and insightful to those who are in leadership at whatever level; from the home to government.

I will share the five dysfunctions and the write about how to overcome them in my next blog. If you are a leader or memeber of a leadership team please review the following honestly and examine the team you are leading. The five dysfunctions are as follows:

*Absence of Trust

*Fear of Conflict

*Lack of Commitment

*Avoidance of Accountability

*Inattention to Results

Dysfunction 1: Absence of trust. Members of teams with an absence of trust do the following:

*Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another

*Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback

*Jump to conclusions about the intentions and attitudes of others

*Hold grudges

*Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together

*The symptom is the fear being vulnerable

Dysfunction 2: Fear of conflict. Where there is a fear of conflict teams:

*Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive

*Ignore controversial topics

*Waste time and energy with political posturing and blame-shifting

*The symptom is artificial harmony or community

Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment. A team that fails to commit:

*Creates uncertainty among the team about direction and priorities

*Watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delays

*Breeds a lack of confidence and the fear of failure

*Revisits discussions and decisions again and again and yet fail to come a solution

*The symptom is ambiguity or uncertainty

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Accountability. A team that avoids accountability:

*Crates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance

*Encourages and sometimes even rewards mediocrity

*Misses deadlines and key goals

*Places an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline

*The symptom is low standards

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to results. A team that is not focused on results:

*Stagnates and ultimately fails to grow

*Rarely defeats competitors

*Loses achievement-oriented employees

*Encourages team members to focus on their own careers and individual goals

*Is easily distracted

*The symptom of this dysfunction becomes about status and ego

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Aaahh, devotion...you don't hear much about that these days do you? At least not in the true sense of the word as you used it here, Bon. Kinda makes your heart hurt, doesn't it?

-- Posted by BarbaraNTexas on Tue, Oct 20, 2009, at 7:17 AM

I heard him say one time that he wrote her a letter everyday and he still does even though she has passed away. That's devotion.

-- Posted by BonScott on Mon, Oct 19, 2009, at 8:58 PM

Bon, the principles John Wooden relied on for the success of his basketball teams are equally applicable to everyday life.

You can't go wrong by reading the following books by John Wooden: "They Call Me Coach," and "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court." He adored his wife Nell, and he writes that when they were married he asked only one thing of her: to never make fun of him. They were married more than 50 years before she died of cancer and he says she never broke her word.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Mon, Oct 19, 2009, at 2:02 PM

FJGuy, one of my favorite Coach Wooden quotes is "be quick but don't hurry". That is so true in life.

-- Posted by BonScott on Sun, Oct 18, 2009, at 1:48 PM

Good contributing information, FJGuy. Between the two of them - Phil Warren and Coach Wooden - they give wonderful lessons on teamwork and success.

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Oct 17, 2009, at 7:23 AM

Are you a big basketball fan FJGuy?

-- Posted by BonScott on Fri, Oct 16, 2009, at 9:46 PM



-- Posted by MOGAL on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 10:21 PM

It so happens that yesterday was the 99th birthday of perhaps the greatest living proponent of the value of teamwork ... former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Coach Wooden won 10 NCAA championships from 1964 to 1975, the year he retired. Paradoxically he won by teaching his players to not focus on winning -- but execution and effort. His philosophy is embodied in "The Pyramid of Success." See, http://forejustice.org/pyramid_of_succes...

-- Posted by FJGuy on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 8:52 PM

Even in my classrooms, I found that the lessons worked best when we all jumped into a project and worked together, researching the subject and coming up with answers that none of us knew before. I never felt that I needed to know all the answers before we got started on a subject. It was so much fun to learn along with the kids!

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 7:26 PM

mrsdolphin, not everyone is a team player. However (IMO) a good leader would recognize those who aren't and figure out ways to get them to become a player. No set of individuals working on a team will think or perform in exactly the same way. Again, imo, a good team helps the individual become stronger. I can't say this always works, but it is a good goal.

-- Posted by BarbaraNTexas on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 2:32 PM

I just have one question Mr. Warren. I must say first, that I do like this philosophy of teamwork that you outlined, but I wanted to ask this:Can everyone on a team (different personalities and all) actually be as productive as one would think w/ this kind of teamwork? I work in a diverse atmosphere, and though most of the people I work w/ are of good character, not all are. I wasn't sure that all this could be absorbed by just anyone.

-- Posted by mrsdolphin on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 2:14 PM

Another excellent blog, Mr. Warren. You are a good addition to our website.

These issues also crop up in education. When my oldest son was searching for an engineering school to do his master's degree, he looked at two schools who used totally opposite approaches. He rejected a school in Montana, where the professor was of the "top-down" philosophy, and he chose a grad school in Iowa, where the professors were on a first-name basis with their students, and they all worked together as a team.

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 1:50 PM

Excellent piece, Mr. Warren.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to participate (as a student) in Community College Aerospace Scholars program at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It was absolutely awesome. During lunch on the next to last day, we had a speaker, Dr. Bonnie Dubar, who is one of the first female astronauts, and she told us about her adventure in becoming who she is today. She said, "Yes, I may be the one in the cockpit of the shuttle on my way to the ISS, but it took a team of over a thousand people to put me there." I don't think I will ever forget that. In fact, the whole experience at JSC was very eye-opening in regard to teamwork. Each group of the hundred or so students (we were broken up to groups of about 10 each) was assigned a staff member for the duration of the program. My staff member was Dr. John Fields, a solid rocket booster engineer. Everyone is on first name basis and egos are not allowed. It was a life-changing experience that I will never forget.

-- Posted by BarbaraNTexas on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 12:39 PM

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Phil Warren is a local pastor and has lived in the Dexter community for the last 12 years. He has six children and four grandchildren and his wife Cindy is a local teacher. He enjoys photography, reading, writing and golf. He also loves coaching in the local park leagues. Phil spent his early years growing up in the hills near Wappapello Lake. He moved to Granite City, IL. during his grade school years. Phil worked 13 years at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft in St. Louis and has pastored since 1986. He also served in the U.S. Army as a military policeman and was stationed at Ft. Campbell KY. and Seoul, Korea. He attended college at SIUE and Oakland City College.
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