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Reflections on a cohesive team: a cautionary tale

Reflections on a cohesive team: a cautionary tale

Eavesdropping on a cohesive team

Once upon a time, I worked on a team that was productive, where the team felt energized by our work, where we were even envied by our peers. This a story of how that team came together as a productive, cohesive team and then was torn apart.

First there was a very small group that reported to the same manager and did what they were told. No one felt particularly excited by their work, but they did their individual jobs and took home a paycheck. Then they got a new manager. That woman wasn’t only a manager, she was also a leader.

Oh, how things changed. They started seeing themselves as a team. Instead of just accepting any and all assignments they started talking about their role in the organization, about the organization’s role in the world, about a vision of how the team could do great and important work. The leader crafted a vision and shared it across departmental lines. She encouraged others to align with her vision both up, across, and down reporting lines. Everyone knew why they did the work they did. Everyone knew what to expect from this team.

The team’s work was valued and the team was allowed to grow. The new members learned about the vision and contributed to it. They learned to respect each other’s work and contributions, they understood each other’s roles, and they worked toward the same goals, they trusted each other. The team grew professionally. They could see results from their effort. They felt like part of a community. Their work was noticed. They won awards. Team members were energized.

Then the manager/leader was promoted to another unit. The team was happy for her and kept producing. Then a weak manager replaced her. He was such a nice guy, but his door was always closed. No one knew what he was working toward or what his vision was. He made commitments he didn’t follow through on or handed off to his staff at the last minute. The team felt a great loss but persevered with their work, trying not to get sidetracked too often.

Others noticed and the weak manager became a former boss. One of the team members was promoted. Again everyone knew what they were doing and why. They accepted challenges and were proud again. The team stayed intact. They continued to be recognized for their top-quality work.

Then came a new top-level leader, and everyone was excited. She said such great things. She was going to take the entire organization to new heights and make the hard decisions. The team was so excited to work with her.

Her first action was to present a new vision—one created without consultation. It sounded clever but no one knew quite what it meant. She publicly shamed the team for a project they had never worked on. She redecorated her office and scheduled meetings in 15-minute blocks. The team was relocated and lost access to this leader. The team members did not feel trusted. They were still a team and still committed to supporting the leader’s vision, but they did not understand it or their role in it, nor did they have the means to get clarification.

The team wasn’t sure what to do. The standards they had set for themselves were not the standards of the new office holder. They slowly learned that what was said and what was rewarded were frequently not the same thing. Their peers in other departments began acting out of fear and confusion and no longer worked alongside them. Their commitment to the leader and to achieving results disintegrated.

The team’s manager/leader chose to continue doing what she felt was best for the entire organization and was eventually moved from the team. Other team members left, expressing much sorrow and guilt about leaving their peers. And now, instead of a team, there was left only an office of people reporting to the same manager.

Eavesdropping on a dysfunctional team

Eavesdropping on a dysfunctional team

This group still does the work assigned to it. It still achieves. But the energy and cohesion was lost. It seldom drives new initiatives. It lost its brilliance.

The moral of the story is that someone in a manager or leadership role can develop a cohesive team or destroy one.

A leader can build a cohesive team by

  • establishing and building trust
  • keeping your word
  • communicating with clarity
  • listening before acting
  • socializing their vision
  • building alignment of tasks to vision (why we’re doing what we do)
  • celebrating their team
  • understanding the emotional needs of the team
  • creating an environment where it’s safe to have conflicts
  • holding each member accountable for their unique contributions
  • setting high standards

A leader can destroy a cohesive team by

  • refusing to make any hard choices
  • declaring contradictory goals
  • irregular and inconsistent communication
  • rewarding or criticizing haphazardly
  • failing to grow positive relationships with the team
  • failing to build positive relationships with outside constituents and resource providers
  • avoiding learning about the members’ needs and motivations
  • not following through on your own commitments
  • betraying trust or never establishing it

We wish you all a positive experience on your teams. One where you can all say “and we worked productively together and achieved many wonderful results.”

We recommend several products to help you get there:

The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ (assessment & training)

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (book)

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (book)

Everything DiSC Work of Leaders® Profile (assessment & training)

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