Transforming the Team: Week Two — The One and Only Team Dysfunction: Lack of Trust

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. 
Teams don’t always function well. We have an abundance of theories and practices about how to identify team dysfunctions and how to deal with them. But, we’ve really only come across one fundamental dysfunction in all my years working with leaders and their teams. 
A team is a network of 1:1 relationships — as discussed in part one of this series — in which great work can get done. Blaming, conflict avoidance, inattention to results, and lack of commitment aren’t dysfunctions of this network of relationships. They are symptoms that reveal the single underlying cause of all team performance problems and the one and only dysfunction worth addressing. 
The one and only dysfunction of a team is our inability to build trusting relationships with each and every other member of our team. 
For the moment, let’s put aside the symptoms we normally treat and address this dysfunction head on. Let’s begin by distinguishing the characteristics of a healthy, effective 1:1 relationship at work. 
Define “Working” Relationship 
We define a “working” relationship as one in which we: 

  • Acknowledge we are both committed, competent, and well-intended; 
  • Understand our roles and the relationship between them; 
  • Have been explicit with each other about what we do and can expect from each other within this role relationship; and 
  • Agree that, because we are different observers, we will have different points of view and that our differences (which are typically referred to as “conflict”) represent opportunities to learn from each other, to innovate, and to co-create. 

When will we know we have a healthy working relationship? 
The Healthy-Relationship Checklist 

  • We can have whatever conversations we need to have with each other spontaneously — whenever we need to have them — to coordinate our actions without things devolving into an interpersonal breakdown. 
  • Trust increases as we discuss our differences. 
  • Our differences define our relationship, and we exploit them for our mutual benefit.  
  • Our differences have become fundamental to our ability to perform. 

What’s Missing? 
All-too often, I see teams skip or try to avoid this whole issue of building their working relationships. Partly because they believe anything to do with relationships is “soft skills” and will take up a lot of unnecessary time. True, it will take time. But that time is insignificant compared with the time we already spend creating and running workarounds so that our relationships that aren’t working don’t stop us from getting work done (however sub-optimally). 
Yet, even when team members realize they need to take time to work on their relationships, they still don’t. Why? Quite often, it’s simply because we actually don’t know how to go about doing so. This is, after all, not something we were taught to do in business school, in primary school, or anywhere in between. 
What we don’t know how to do often appears difficult until we know how to do it. 
This Week’s Exercise: What are the ways you can build trusting relationships inside the team? Try supporting a member of the team behind the scenes by going above and beyond to make them even more successful, and give them public credit/recognition for the success. 
Next week in our series, we build on the topic of trust and talk relationships at work. 
Want to learn more great strategies for your company culture and your people? Join John Frehse and Dr. Jarik Conrad, executive director of the UKG Workforce Institute, for a live conversation about culture TODAY, September 6, at 1:00 p.m. ET. Register now for “The Culture Lab: Exploring Cultural Norms That Diminish Human Performance and Cause Top Performers to Resign.”