Two years ago I checked in with the local community foundation to see if it needed volunteers. Before I knew it, I was part of one of the very best teams I have ever worked with — a committee tasked with developing three new awards, giving them to worthy recipients, and celebrating those recipients at a gala dinner. The entire committee has just agreed to stay together for a third year and take on a new task.

What is most inspiring about the committee is the wonderful mix of people who produce — who do more than they say they are going to do, and who really deliver results on time. It's an atmosphere where all feel valued, all opinions are worthy, and the diversity of talent is abundant.

Make Trust the Cornerstone We are all part of teams; our own companies are prime examples, as are the PTA, the church, the volunteer fire department, and our families. What makes one team work and another flounder? Patrick Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team gave me important insights in consulting for company teams.

Like so many management books, this is a business fable involving fictional characters — in this case, a new CEO trying to turn around a dysfunctional team. Although the title sounds negative (what can you expect from someone who also wrote Death by Meeting?), the book is easy to read and outlines a wonderful five-step model for developing an effective team. Each succeeding step depends on the one before it.

  • It all starts with building trust. Trusting team members admit mistakes and weaknesses, ask for help, take risks in offering feedback and assistance, and offer and accept apologies without hesitation. Lencioni has some practical suggestions for building trust, including having the leader model and reward these behaviors, personality profiling (and sharing the profiles), and encouraging socializing.
  • “Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers' intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group,” notes Lencioni. This allows the team to engage in healthy conflict — the second quality of a great team. Thus they have lively meetings, hear ideas from every member, solve problems quickly, and face critical topics.
  • Now the table is set for the team members to have commitment to decisions. “As simple as it seems,” writes Lencioni, “one of the tools for ensuring commitment is the use of clear deadlines for when decisions will be made, and honoring those dates with discipline and rigidity.”
  • Accountability is the willingness of team members to call their peers on behaviors that might hurt the team. As Lencioni notes, “there is nothing like the fear of letting down respected teammates that motivates people to improve their performance.” This places accountability on the team, not the owner. For most company owners, that would be a joy!
  • The final step is to focus on results. The outcome from your team's laser-like focus is that you will retain achievement-oriented staff, you will accomplish goals, and all will learn from failures as well as bask in the delight of successes.
  • Step Into Action

    Ready to put Lencioni's principles in action? His book includes a workbook of exercises. Each month, for instance, you could get your key managers to read a chapter of Five Dysfunctions and meet to discuss how that chapter applies to their work. Or you could have every employee take the book's assessment and see where your team might be weak. This team-building model is a great resource. It's not a quick fix, but any steps your team can take in the right direction should pay off many times over.

    Trust, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and results: now I know why I like my committee-team and why I signed up to work hard for no money for another year. —Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620; linda@remodelersadvan;