How to overcome the 5 Dysfunctions of Virtual Teams

Patrick Lencioni explored the fundamental causes of team failure.

According to his book ‘The five dysfunctions of a Team’ are:

  1. Absence of trust. Team members don’t dare to show vulnerability within the group
  2. Fear of conflict. The team prefers artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate, while the latter is required to create trust and openess
  3. Lack of commitment. Decisions are made, but sincere buy-in for group decisions is missing. This results in ambiguity throughout the organization
  4. Avoidance of accountability. Ducking the responsibility to hold each other accountable on agreed behavior. This behavior sets low standards
  5. Inattention to results. Team members focus more on personal success, status and ego before team success
The 5 dysfunctions of a team

Knowing this, we can apply this knowledge to our current virtual teams to continue their development.

How to build trust in these virtual times?

Building trust is about getting to know each other and daring to be vulnerable. If we translate that to actual circumstances it means the following:

  • Dare to share your private life
    • Now we are working from home, we show a part of our private life. I have seen many people virtually the last months that were:
      • In their living room while their partner was getting a cup of coffee
      • Trying to work with a child that was seeking attention
      • Sitting in the middle of stacks of moving boxes in a new house.
    • And that’s ok. Dare to show and share it. That is better than trying to hide it with artificial backgrounds to block your private life.
  • Have sincere interest in the private life of others
    • How do your colleagues feel? How is their family doing?
    • The manager should share his/her concerns first. He/she sets the tone regarding vulnerability. Share your concerns.
    • Doing this will result in more trust, respect and willingness to help each other
  • Dare to say that you don’t know what will happen
    • Due to current circumstances it is obviously more difficult to predict the future. Just dare to share that.
  • Spend trust with staff to build trust
    • There are organizations that started to monitor staff via their computers and software. Avoid going there. Building a strong relationship with your team, and thus trust, is much more effective!

How to enable having constructive conflict in these virtual times?

  • The Leader has to acknowledge and confirm that he/she loves to see constructive conflict to become better and have better decisions.
  • Virtual conflict is obviously more difficult. People experience virtual meetings more as presentations (one way conversations) and next to that you barely see body language. The least you can do is to ensure everyone turns their camera on.
  • If your meeting is boring, it is lacking conflict. So do some checks now and then how the others experience the meeting. Boring? That should be a heads up!
  • In case there was conflict: praise it. It has brought you further.

If the meeting is perceived as boring, there is lack of conflict!

How to ensure commitment in these circumstances?

This is the time to adjust and let go old strategy or priorities. It is time for innovation. How do you enable alignment and buy-in?

Clarity is prerequisite for commitment. So, ensure there is no ambiguity at the end of a meeting. Summarize things discussed. Use the following questions to double check and send out minutes later on:

  • What have we discussed?
  • How are we cascading it down?
  • What are we not going to share.

How to hold each other accountable in these times?

If you have already made agreements about what behavior you want to see and what not, you need to hold each other accountable. But obviously confronting someone about behavior is more difficult than conflict around disagreement on content.

Holding each other accountable about behavior in this virtual world needs to be done more gently than ever. Simply because people now immediately walk into their family. Have these conversations 1 to 1 only.

How to remain focus on team success?

  • If there is still lack of focus, create a temporary goal. This will give the team a level of clarity; focus. And remember, a decision is better than no decision regarding direction.
  • Ensure this common goal is the basis of the team conversations. It should become the focus in their conversations. This enables a common goal feeling; a unified single goal.
  • Since silo building is now very easy, invite people to join meetings of other department. This will help them to keep an eye on the bigger picture and avoid silo building.