Transforming the Team: Week Five — Recognizing Dysfunction Before It Grows

Today, the UKG Workforce Institute continues a collaborative, culture-focused effort with Ankura called “Transforming the Team.” In this five-week series, guest contributor Mark Cappellino from the Ankura Talent Advisory team, along with UKG Workforce Institute advisory board member and Ankura colleague John Frehse, provide actionable strategies and weekly exercises to help leaders transform their cultures, starting at the individual and team levels. 
This work is part of a collaboration inside The Culture Lab at Ankura, where experts from different fields come together to tell a more impactful story about business outcomes. For this session, Mark, John, and a range of leaders from other disciplines help leaders better understand team dynamics and dysfunction. Most importantly, what to do about it to drive operational performance. 
Before reading ahead, catch up on the series here: Week One; Week Two; Week Three; and Week Four. 
Is the performance of your team slipping while leaders struggle to find ways to reverse the trend? Let’s buckle in for more hard work — the kind of work that yields results and a clear way to stay ahead of dips in team performance. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until things aren’t working well to get this approach working for you and your team. 
The Work: Proactively have 1:1 conversations with each person you work with about the relationship between your roles.
Consider this: It is your respective roles in the organization that place you in work relationships with each other. Each role has its own “lane” or area of responsibility. Now is the time to design each relationship so that, in the places where your lanes overlap, you can create a clear context for all your interactions. 
You can shape your dialogue about the relationship between your roles along the lines of the following three constructs. 
These conversations between individual team members about role relationships are a necessity for effective teamwork. 
Area One: Responsibilities 
We each have specific and unique responsibilities that are posited by our roles. Predictably, there is inherent tension between our role responsibilities. These responsibilities have us interpret our work in a particular way. Invariably, that means what is of significant importance to you at a tactical or transactional level may or may not be as important to me, and vice versa. This is a reality between the roles that we inherit. 
Start your role-relationship conversation by sharing what each person sees as their responsibilities in the work you are doing together, what you each think your responsibilities are, and how they are aligned or misaligned. Consider where you may be competing for each other’s time and attention. Have the discussion to achieve alignment. Identify exactly what you will be counting on each other for. This is also known as “count-on-ability” (a.k.a. “mutual accountability”). 
Area Two: Priorities 
Each of our responsibilities comes with its own set of specific priorities. We are operating in dynamic circumstances, so priorities will shift and change over time and even masquerade as hidden agendas. What is in-the-moment urgent for me may become a backburner item in a month. What was a burning issue for you yesterday has disappeared off your radar today. This plays havoc with effective teamwork. Which makes it all the more important that we inform each other when a priority that impacts our work together shifts. 
Take the first step and identify where your current priorities compete. Identify these competing priorities as areas for potential conflict moving forward — and have the conversation as to how you will resolve the competing priorities now. These may be challenging conversations to have, but they pale in comparison to the challenge presented by not having them. 
For example, a division president responsible for doubling the division’s capacity may want to secure working capital for growth. His primary concern is making sure his division has the capabilities in place to deliver value in the given timeframe. The CFO, whose most important concern is to reduce costs for the whole enterprise, may want to limit all capital expenditures to manage ROI. It isn’t lost on either of them that their priorities are competing. Both leaders can, if they proactively discuss their competing priorities (which are legitimate) ahead of time, have candid discussions to resolve the conflict between making the capital investment and balancing ROI. 
We need to design a good working relationship first — before we can resolve the inevitable disagreements and conflicts we will have within it. 
Area Three: Expectations
We sometimes come into a conversation about our responsibilities and priorities with preconceived expectations of the role, based on our prior experience. The role you currently play in the organization may have been played by other people. I may unconsciously expect that you will repeat what they did and how they did it. Or we may have hidden expectations of each other simply because of what we associate with our titles. 
Commit to take nothing for granted in the realm of expectations. Rather, in a new role relationship, a new project, or an emerging situation, articulate any expectations you have of the other person — and invite them to do the same with you. Remember that what was urgent and important in the past may have no bearing on our current role responsibilities and priorities. Discuss whether some, all, or none of these expectations of each other are still valid. 
Effectively getting work done together can happen when we are clear about the responsibilities, priorities, and expectations underlying our “arranged” work relationship. We strongly recommend to our clients that they not wait for a conflict or crisis to initiate a conversation about role relationships. In fact, we recommend they have these conversations early and often. 
We can give each other our best when we design our relationships proactively. Better to prepare ourselves with some competence for those inevitably painful moments in which we will need some equanimity and presence of mind to see our way through — together. When everything else has been taken into consideration, it will be our ability to reconcile our conflicts together that maintains the high performance of our team and our organization. 
Our Final Exercise: Try mapping responsibilities with one person in your cohort. Do it separately and see if they match. If they don’t, have a thoughtful and direct conversation about how to get both maps to align.