The Absence of Trust

Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) was a very enlightening read. The book highlighted dysfunctions that I have experienced over my career while providing a road map to identify disconnections within my current team. Team dysfunction can set-in at many levels. When building a reliable team, there must be effective communication, vulnerability, and a foundation of trust. Lencioni (2002) states, “Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability” (p.63).  As I described in my previous blog, the onboarding of the new staff member (SM) revealed challenges for me with identifying the most effective learning style for SM to glean the financial aspects of her new role.

SM’s difficulties with grasping the material caused hesitancy on her part to ask questions and accept help from the graduate assistant (GA) and myself.  She visibly became more reserved from general office interactions, pushing her door half shut most days and failing to interact with the GA and other unit staff. Her unwillingness to be involved with the group displayed her absence of trust. Lencioni (2002) states, “If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony” (p.91).  The absence of trust by SM was met with demonstrated reservations from unit staff. They were uninterested in interacting with SM and their uneasiness to rely on the accuracy of her work when they participated in collaborative team and unit projects. Due to the GA’s fear of possible retaliation from SM, the GA was unwilling to cross-train further or assist SM. Therefore, SM improvised on task to hide errors and weaknesses so that she wouldn’t appear as not comprehending. SM’s actions also caused me to expend additional time and energy, managing the behaviors of the team instead of leading the direction of its goals. Further, her actions caused me to work on gaining a better understanding of SM’s personal history in an attempt to locate better methods in which to create buy-in from the staff. As the leader of the team, it was my responsibility to create a cohesive team by bringing them together to explain expectations, cross-training techniques, and to clarify the skills each member brought to the collaborative efforts of our financial unit.

The dysfunction of this team and the role I played in not creating a positive team dynamic has me rethinking my leadership style, and how I can be inclusive with all members of my team and the unit. For any organization, it is essential that the staff member feels welcome. I would also utilize the “Personal Histories Exercises—where learning about each team member on a personal level; team members are able to relate on a personal level, which builds trust” (Lencioni, 2002, p.198) to set the foundation for building a team. Employee relations are prevalent in the team dynamic. The ability to build trust comes from effective communication which motivates the team and will lead to positive outcomes and increase job performance. As for the staff member and the graduate assistant, I believe the trust can be established. I have scheduled a team meeting with SM, GA, and me where we will discuss the team concept, team building activities, and open dialogue. Therefore, I am committed to moving this team ahead by getting them back on track.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

MBTI and the Team

I am responsible for the financial aspects, graduate student engagement, and professional development for my School. Within the last fifteen years, I have grown in aspects of managing a single role to being apart of leadership at the university and managing a team. The position is no longer a single source, but an engagement of the leadership role. It is critical as a leader to provide guidance to help the staff understand that their ideas, approach to work tasks, and feedback are essential. The unit recently hired additional full-time staff to alleviate the burden of the day to day financial processing responsibilities. As a member of the leadership team with staff management requirements for the demands of a growing School, finding balance is no easy feat! Therefore, the profound role of leadership leads to the understanding of diversity, culture, norms, and values.

As an ESTP, people energize me. I believe I can work with anyone! I thrive by collaborating with others and value independence. The sensing (S) trait allows the ability to focus on facts and provide steps to get the task accomplished; thinking (T) strait is enormous for me as I tend to over analyze. This characteristic can be a hindrance when there is a task that needs to get done expeditiously, and I am still stuck on the details. As an ESTP, it is imperative that I have directions in place to ensure that the task of the office is done efficiently and effectively.

The finance team consists of the new staff member(SM), graduate assistant (GA), and myself.  Due to the nature of the duties required of the team, transitioning is inevitable due to graduate assistants graduating, as well as the growth of full-time employee(s) into new roles. As an ETSP, in preparation for the new organizational structure, cross-training is a critical component in the work environment. I provide one-on-one training for all new hires as it relates to the financial aspects. I believe the team should understand their duties and how their role impacts the students’ financial aspect before being exposed to the actual student account. I have created a procedural manual, and carved out a training schedule checklist to assist for on-boarding new staff members.

Through understanding the MBTI personality test and my assessment of the team’s scores, my goal is to understand their personality preferences and how they can work together to build a more cohesive team. Also, it is imperative for a leader to be intuitive and systematic in assessing the team’s skills, expound on their qualities, and enhance their knowledge.

The graduate assistant (GA) is a doctoral student in the systems modeling degree program. It appears that her MBTI is ISTJ. As an introvert, she prefers solitude, which is the direct contrast to my high energy. As for her sensing (S) and thinking (T) traits, she is a quantitative learner, requires patience, and planning is key to her consistent learning. Having given projects to the GA, I noticed that she performs better with praise when a task is complete. Also, with the hiring of the new staff member, it was vital that I articulated what the GA duties would be in this transition.  Moreover, the GA’s need for order clashes with my preference due to my leadership needs which may require changing directions spontaneously.

The staff member (SM) is new to the unit, but not the university. She was hired due to experience in financial aid and higher education. It appears her MBTI is INFP. As an introvert, she too prefers solitude. She is standoffish from the members of the unit and the team. As an intuitive (N) and feeling (F) traits, she focuses on the meaning of the task and strives for understanding.  As an (F), her feelings are easily hurt based on her sensitive nature. Therefore, in accordance with my preference, I work to not come across as hard-hearted. Further, as an (F) if she does not understand a task, she improvises. This characteristic of the SM is a clash for my preference due to the need for understanding the responsibility, accuracy, and attention to detail.

To guarantee that SM was off to a good start, I carved out two weeks to train her on the new duties. We met daily for two hours, and as needed throughout the day to ensure she understood the tasks. SM appeared to continue to struggle with the financial aspect of her duties. As a result of the more extensive hands-on training, tasks that had been assigned was still not being addressed accurately. Therefore, I asked the GA to cross-train with SM, and my expectations were explained to each individually. On the next business day, I checked in with the GA regarding the cross-training and was met with frustration and conflict. The GA explained that she confirmed to the SM that she is to watch her perform the task in order to understand and correct areas where the SM may have veered off the written instructions and to better assess the disconnect. The SM dismissed the directive immediately, became hostile, and stormed out of the training session, leaving the GA in bewilderment. SM’s actions made the GA so uncomfortable that she no longer wanted to cross-train with SM. I requested the GA to document what occurred for future training purposes and for the employee records maintenance.

The staff member was not in the office on the day the GA expressed her concerns. Upon SM’s return, I asked her overview of the training experience thus far and to share her thoughts about the last training session. She responded that it went alright. She did not mention walking out on the cross-training session. I asked her to explain what occurred to make her walk out on the session. SM indicated that the GA’s authoritative approach was overbearing, so she walked out of the training session.  SM received written notice for the unprofessional behavior displayed to another employee and the creation of a hostile work environment. SM was required to complete Human Resource training and provide a deliverable on the material covered from the session. She is required to check in with the leader daily to ensure that she is on track.

As an ISTJ, the GA was made to step outside of her comfort zone to train SM when she is used to working directly with myself and others on the unit who are accustomed to her work style. Also, GA has a direct approach, whereas my approach tends to be more friendly and welcoming upon getting to know one’s personality and work ethics, which SM had become familiar with in the short span of time.

Overall it is my belief, that this method of cross-training allows staff to demonstrate their ability to work together, strengthen communication, implement new training styles, and explore types of learning techniques from a diverse group of staff. Cross-training ensures that the work of the office can be completed efficiently while offering staff an opportunity to engage in other aspects of the School. Also, it assists with the training of a new staff member and provides a continuous resource for guidance to the team as needed.

I believe leadership is an activity, which is learned. Through my analysis, development in effective communication, trust in the team dynamic, and expansion of knowledge, is beneficial for the growth of the team as future leaders are developed. It is essential to recognize the team personalities, adjust the duties according to the needs of the staff member and unit. Finally, it is imperative that I identify how they best work individually and collaboratively to achieve the overall mission and goals of the unit.