Patterns that Inhibit Team Formation

We’ve all found ourselves part of great teams that just ‘click’. These teams are capable of achieving great things. These teams are the teams, years later, you look back and are proud to have been a part of the team and amazed at what was accomplished.

On the other side, there are teams that are a bear to be a part of. THings are just off, and no amount of team building, norm setting, or retrospectives fixes the issue. What gives?

Whether you are in school, sports, work, or in my case, agile software development, teams are an integral part of working, learning, or having fun. But how can we get team formation wrong? What inhibits a team to form?

Patrick Lencioni in his fable 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, lays out a pyramid of dysfunctions that inhibit team formation: Lack of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Committment, Avoidance of Accountability, and Inattention to Results. Each one builds upon a previous one. I see these as a progression, or a journey in the evolution of a team.

While all of these are critical to a well-functioning team according to Lencioni, Lack of Trust and fear of Conflict will inhibit a team from forming the most. If a team does not trust eachother, they will act as individuals in their own self-interests. Further, if a team is afraid of conflict, they will not challenge each other and you have a team with false harmony - brushing aside their problems just so it seems like they all get along.

In another fable, Patrick Lencioni tells us of the Ideal Team Player, someone who is Humble, Hungry, and Smart. Humble is somewhat self-explanatory. Hungry means a team player will put in extra effort to achieve the group’s goals. Smart refers to Emotional Intelligence, meaning an ideal team player knows how to work well with others. If you have team members who lack these skills, team formation will also struggle.

Personality differences can also inhibit a team from forming. While I’d like to think that anyone can work well with anyone else, in reality, there are some people and personalities that just struggle to get along. SOmetimes, this is seen as polar opposites, someone driven by competition and someone who abhors competition. But sometimes, it’s a combinition of personality traits that cause individuals to struggle on a team together. This is when leaders can step in and re-arrange teams to find an ideal mix of personalities, background, and diversity in an aim to find a better functioning team.

But sometimes, the problem lies with the leaders themselves. If a leader establishes goals that are counter-productive to team formation, such as individualistic goals, or worse, goals that pit team mates against each other, how can a team form in these conditions?

Beyond the leader, the culture must also support and celebrate the team and not the individual. When teams are celebrated and recognized, it makes it clear to individuals that they cannot succeed without their team around them. When team members are given team-driven performance goals and not individual-driven performance goals, it is clear that an individual must work with their team and help it do better in order to personally do better.

There are many ways in which team formation can be stunted, slowed, or prevented. To ensure teams form, hire for people who are humble, hungry, and smart. Establish team level goals and rewards. Consider personality types and seek to find good matches where possible. And finally, ensure leaders walk the walk as well as talk the talk.