#Quaranteaming—A Reflection on Effective Teamwork

written by: Lisa Strei

NOTE: Lisa Strei is a Workplace Coach and Authorized Partner of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ and Everything DiSC®. For more information on The Five Behaviors or to request a free consultation, please visit https://www.lisastrei.com/the-5-behaviors-1.   Teams…I love teams. I love teamwork, I love being a team player, and I love being a team leader. Over our lives, we are on so many different and wonderful teams. We may start out on a t-ball team, or in a scout pack…maybe soccer or another sport. We’re introduced to small group work in elementary school as we sit in tables or pods of 4. As we move into college, we’re put on more diverse teams. The modern-day workforce now sees a lot of virtual and inter-departmental teams.   We are all part of a team in some way, shape, or form. If you are a person, then you’re part of a little team called the human race. You are part of your community. You are part of a workplace, possibly. You are part of a family. You may be working remotely at this point in time and trying to either effectively manage or be a part of a newly-remote team. You may be a newly-appointed home-school teacher. If you’re a teacher, you may have been recently promoted to a home-school-trainer, as well as an educator. We are all a part of some sort of team.   A few weeks ago, our country was thrown into a major whirlwind called COVID-19, and we were all placed in some new and/or different teams. It wasn’t our choice—we had no choice. It just is what it is. Workers who were used to going into an office every day are now working from home for possibly the first time ever. Virtual workers who were used to #WFH had to start living without video conferencing due to bandwidth issues, causing them to lose some of the personal contacts they already had so little of. Students on spring break could not return to school and became virtual or home-schooled learners. Parents became teachers. Every person in the U.S. became a soldier in this battle for our health. We are all affected and united with a common goal—we are all on the same team fighting the same fight.   Patrick Lencioni wrote a revolutionary book back in 2002 called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. If you’ve never read it, I highly encourage you to do so. The premise is that, for a team to truly function in a cohesive way, they need to adopt and consistently practice 5 key behaviors:  
  1. Trust one another,
  2. Engage in conflict around ideas,
  3. Commit to decisions,
  4. Hold each other accountable, and
  5. Focus on achieving collective results
  As Lencioni puts it, teamwork requires “courage and persistence” that people aren’t always ready for. Teamwork isn’t a virtue. Rather, it’s a “strategic and intentional decision we have to make.” When we make that decision, we are “more likely to accept the cost and the hard work that it entails.” Then—and only then—will we encounter the power of teamwork.   #Quaranteaming isn’t easy—it is proving to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I hate having to tell my kids they can’t play with friends. I hate the fact that we couldn’t have a spring break. I miss my routine. I miss the predictability of my days and being able to rely on my planner. My planner is full of things I had put in there weeks ago that I’ve had to cross out. It looks cluttered and messy. I hate cluttered and messy!   But I have made the decision that I need to be a part of this team, and I am willing to accept the cost and hard work that being on this team will entail.   I am willing to be an active participant in The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™:  

Behavior #1: Trusting one another

When team members are genuinely transparent and honest with one another, it forms a safe environment that creates and builds vulnerability-based trust. Vulnerability is the key to building a great team. It’s not a touchy-feely concept. Rather, vulnerability is admitting who you are as a person. I’m a DiSC person—I see things through a DiSC lens. For those of you like me who know and love DiSC, I’m a strongly-inclined CS style. I value accuracy, stability, and support. If you’re into Myers-Briggs, I’m an ISFJ-T type. For those Strengthsfinder folks, my top 5 themes are Responsibility, Harmony, Achiever, Arranger, and Maximizer. You can see the common themes in my personality—I don’t like change, I thrive on predictability and routine, and I don’t like to rock anyone’s boat. I may be an introvert, but this is still difficult, because my usual sense of normalcy is totally different, and adaptability is not my thing (it’s number 21 of my 34 strengths).

Why does this matter?

  Why am I sharing this? Because if my family (my immediate closest-proximity team) didn’t know this about me, they wouldn’t truly understand why my emotions are on a roller coaster, or why (if my kids don’t get every home-school assignment done on a certain day) I feel like a failure as a home-school teacher. They would think I was crazy. If I didn’t know and understand that this is causing such anxiety in my daughter that she cannot fall asleep at night alone in her room, I’d tell her to just suck it up and take some melatonin. If my son didn’t feel open to crying on my shoulder because he misses his friends and can’t express himself in tangible ways, I’d get frustrated with him. Without vulnerability-based trust, we wouldn’t understand each other, and we would have completely unproductive conflict and too many negative feelings towards one another. Trust is the foundation of building a cohesive and effective team.  

Behavior #2: Engaging in productive conflict

  When you have vulnerability-based trust, members of your team are able to engage in the unfiltered, constructive debate of ideas. Conflict is uncomfortable, but if we truly have vulnerability-based trust from behavior #1, we can engage in conflict without fear, because conflict is simply the pursuit of the truth. Without trust, conflict can become manipulative.  

Behavior #3: Committing to decisions

  If we don’t weigh into a decision, we won’t buy-in. We must go from conflict to commitment. Lencioni is very quick to say that he’s not talking about consensus here. We don’t necessarily want or need consensus—if we wait for everyone to agree on something, then we’ll make decisions too slow, too late, and equally dissatisfying for everyone. No, what we’re talking about here is our human need to know that our idea has been shared, heard, and factored into the final decision. It is the team leader’s job (whoever the leader of whatever team) to make sure everyone weighs in and gets their opinions heard. If the leader demands conflict (we’re not talking fist-fighting remember—we’re talking about the pursuit of truth) and then can explain the final decision and how each person’s input was factored into that decision, then 99 times out of 100, that person will support the decision, even if he doesn’t agree with it. What we don’t want to have happened is a passive commitment—where someone says they’re committed to the decision and then does nothing to support it and/or sabotages the results. Commitment is so important, particularly right now. Each team we are involved in, each team our leaders are involved in–we need to be committed to the decisions that have been made, whether that be social distancing, homeschooling, working from home, etc.  

Behavior #4: Holding one another accountable

  This is probably the most difficult part of teamwork. Why? Because holding each other accountable is personal. It’s emotional. Many times, we confuse accountability with conflict, because both can be emotionally driven. However, it’s important to know the difference between the two. Conflict is the pursuit of the truth–it’s engaging in discussion and disagreement about an issue, a “thing”. Accountability is confronting someone about his or her behavior–it’s personal. It’s having the courage to say to someone, “you’re not holding up your end of the bargain” or “I need you to follow through”. It’s important to realize that holding someone accountable doesn’t have to be harsh (the two examples I gave may be a little extreme), but it does need to be direct and clear. We may be very comfortable with conflict, but very uncomfortable with accountability. Those of us who have harmony and empathy as our dominant strengths or those of us who lean more towards the “i” and “S” DiSC types may struggle with this. We don’t want others to feel bad. But, really, it’s because we don’t want to feel bad. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable.  

Behavior #5: Focusing on achieving collective results

  Lencioni states that the final dysfunction of a team is the inattention to results, or the tendency of individual team members to seek out individual recognition. When we’re working on our own individual goals, then we are putting the team’s goal at risk. Only when we can all truly commit to focusing on the team’s goal will the team function at 100%.   The other day, the Governor of Iowa (my home state) announced that our time in quarantine is extended until April 30th, which means that schools and “non-essential” businesses, among other things, will be closed and/or restricted until the end of the month. It is time for us to function as a cohesive team. It is time for us to have trust in our leaders and our communities and have vulnerability-based trust with our friends and family. I’ve seen a lot of virtual check-ins on social media, which I love, and I’ve been honest with how I’ve been feeling. The result? Lots of caring private messages checking in on me and virtual hugs. 💜 Thank you, friends!   It is time for us to be open with each and engage in productive conflict. It’s imperative that our leaders do the same. We absolutely need to commit to engaging in the activities and recommendations that our leaders set for us. Even more, we need to hold each other accountable–don’t be afraid to call someone out if you see them not doing the behaviors that have been set for us. Finally, we need to focus on the collective results–the ultimate goal of the team we are on.   More importantly, The Five Behaviors are applicable to every team on which we serve. I realize that I’ve written this with a COVID-19 lens, to give a relatable example, but these concepts apply to all teams–from our workplace teams to our volunteer committees to our family units.   I will leave you with two final thoughts from Patrick Lencioni. First, this work is never over–building a cohesive team takes effort. You need to be constantly revisiting the concepts as a check-in. The day you “quit” is something that goes wrong. Secondly, it’s never “easy”. The concepts are simple enough, but building a strong team takes behavioral rigor, commitment, and courage.   But it is possible, and the results are amazing.   Special thanks to Patrick Lencioni and his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, as well as John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team partner resources.    – Written by Lisa Strei. Permission to share