Volume 96, March 2009: Team Tripwires

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2009 ISSN # 1545-8873

“T-E-A-M. Together Each Accomplishes More.” — Student in our Team Leadership course

“Life is a team sport, and we all get to play.” — Church marquee in Nashville

“A conference is a gathering of important people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done.” — Fred Allen

“We trained hard – but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” — Petronius Arbiter, 210 B.C.


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Team playing and team-building skills.
  • Attending to both task and group process.
  • Ability to constructively confront issues and engender trust among team members.
  • Seeing teams as systems. Alignment of players in a common aim.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

We are not educated nor trained to be team members. Our individualistic society promotes standing out in the crowd – which breeds competition. Because of this learning deficit – how to be a good team member, some behaviors in team meetings (acts of commission – e.g., cheap shots – and acts of omission – e.g., withholding information) hinder group effectiveness.

Because most leaders aren’t schooled in the art of building teams, team tripwires are often left unaddressed and often spiral into dysfunctional behavior. Without the help of a skilled facilitator, a leader may need to learn how to assess and intervene with their team(s) on their own.

Frequently Asked Questions

“What are the components of a good team meeting?”
This is an important question because “structural” problems often underlie team dysfunction. Here’s a few important components:
  1. Establish a written agenda – pre-circulated if possible.
  2. Have an opener to inform, excite and involve.
  3. Establish the course. Be clear on the team’s purpose and product.
  4. Use roles like time-keeper, recorder and facilitator to distribute leadership.
  5. Employ consensus decision-making tools to invite the ideas of all and weave them into a direction.
  6. Craft the meeting to keep the energy high.
  7. Close the session with a review of accomplishments, the record, next steps and assignments.
  8. Evaluate the meeting.

Ground Rules and a Parking Lot (for ideas that bubble up out of place) are two handy tools to use. See Keyzines Meetings and Consensus Building.

“How do I pull my management team together?”
Like any other team, they will profit from CPR – a culture of Commitment to the work, clear Purpose, and focus on Relationships. Ask them about ideal team experiences of the past, and use these models to craft a “team agreement” (new term for ground rules). Always push communication in the direction of “open,” and provide the environment to speak truthfully (albeit kindly) without harm.
“Suppose I see something odd going on in my team, but I can’t put my finger on it. What can I do?”
Your intuition is usually to be trusted. Here are two of the most successful facilitation techniques I use:
  • The Dumb Question: “What's going on here?”
  • Process Clarification: “What are we trying to accomplish right now?” and “What process or tool will help us achieve that?”

Viewing dysfunctional behaviors within the context of a system – for example, you have an uneven participation process rather than a meeting dominator. A broken communication process rather than side conversations. Reframing what you observe in systems terms removes blame and affixes the problem to the entire group. Ask the team how to solve the problem.

“Doesn’t all this human relations stuff eat into our productive time?”
Hofner Saphiere studied 12 global business teams over 9 months, and found that “productive teams” (vs. non-productive ones):
  • Engaged in 2½ times more productive behavior and 4 times more process behavior.
  • Communicated 53% more frequently.
  • Placed a higher value on social interaction.
  • Engaged in frequent informal conversation.
  • Felt understood and respected.
  • Expressed differences of opinion more frequently.
  • Disagreed in a depersonalized manner 50% more often.
  • In face-to-face meetings, spent significant time on relationship-building.
  • Used several communication media to balance affect and task.
  • Even in written communication, began and ended with relationship-building information.
  • Rotated leadership, in a process leadership manner.
  • Unanimously wanted to work together again.

Relationship-building is paramount!

Exercises and Action Items:

  • Work more on relationships and tasks will flow.
  • Foster accountability with the exercise: “What I bring to the team” and “What I need from the team.” Each team member answers in turn, using a visual, like Post-its on the wall.


Podcast on team dysfunction: Overcoming Team Dysfunction.

A free MP3 download by Cornelius Fichtner on Overcoming Team Dysfunction.

Framework for assessing 16 team complexes (dysfunctions): Team Dynamics Assessment.

Key Associates offers Team Leadership Training and Facilitator Training. Contact us for more information.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

A methodology for assessing virtual team dysfunction: Recognize and address early signs of virtual team dysfunction to avoid irrecoverable problems later.

Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Conquer Team Dysfunction (alternate URL: Conquer Team Dysfunction.

Keyzines on related topics: Mediating Conflict, Teams, Facilitation, Dealing with Difficult People, Facilitative Leadership, Relationship Building, On Delegation, Constructive Confrontation, Toxic People, Bad Systems, Good People, and Consensus Building.



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