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.

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