Despite being pretty busy with various projects, the members of our product team make it a habit to come together twice a month to have lunch. During these lunches, we talk about anything and everything under the sun that strikes us as interesting.
Five Dysfunctions is an interesting book on teamwork. It presents lessons on teamwork within the structure of a story, or fable. The story is about a promising startup that has a good product, plenty of talented people, but also one of the most toxic and political atmospheres. The CEO is asked to step down, and a new one is hired by the board. Under the new CEO, major teamwork issues are resolved, and the company begins to make major progress with its product.
The main problems that stop a team from being an honest-to-God real team are illustrated here:
When someone on our product team first suggested that we all read the book, the first thing I did was groan. However, I eventually buckled down and started reading it (it helps that I love to read). Because of the way the book presents its lessons, it’s actually a pretty easy read. Before long, I was hooked on the book, and it’s not because I’m some self-help guru bandwagoner at all.
It’s because what I was reading really and truly resonated with me.
I could immediately see that many of the problems listed are very true. Even more, I also saw that I myself have been guilty of doing some of these exact things. What I didn’t realize earlier was how each of these little (or not so little) instances multiplied across a team can really snowball into something negative.
Even my first reaction to hearing that we were going to read this book is a good example of what I’m talking about. The first thing I felt was annoyance. My thinking was that I’m already busy at work, which meant that I’d have to read this on my personal time—but I didn’t want to devote my personal time to something work-related.
The question is, why didn’t I speak up? There were many reasons, but the main one was that I didn’t feel like I was in a position to object. I didn’t want to rock the boat, and it seemed like the other people on our team had no problem with reading a book, so I didn’t want to be the one who was different. That right there shows a lack of trust and a fear of conflict, which are the bottom two attributes in the pyramid above.
I love that the Five Dysfunctions book has gotten me to see and think differently, but it’s not my Bible by any means. I think that it’s a good place to start, and from there I have my own take-aways.
To me, many of the principles mentioned in the book are echoed in relationship/marriage advice. For example, you can’t be afraid to speak your mind if you want to keep a relationship moving forward. Holding back will only cause more problems down the road, and often that delay means that the problems have had that much time to become more complex and unmanageable. You know this, and I know this. And yet, why do we act differently towards people at home versus people at work?
Trust is another good example. We recognize the need to have trust in a significant other, but what about the people at work? We often trust our coworkers to be competent at what they do, but that’s usually where we draw the line. In terms of a deeper trust, do you honestly trust the people at work to have your back or to be there for you if something goes wrong? To be able to take and receive an honest opinion even if it’s not very pretty?
What I’m really getting at is that all of this is about people. At the heart of any type of relationship, whether it’s work, business, personal, are the people. We know that all people are human, but sometimes we seem to forget that, because we’re not always forgiving when we see people at their worst—frustrated, angry, yelling, or just plain upset—and we’re even less understanding if it’s in the workplace setting.
Personally, I think that bringing some of the commitment we normally reserve for family to the workplace might be a good thing. If you think about it, most of us actually spend more time with coworkers than family. So why not commit to building high quality relationships at work as well?
For some of us, realizing some of these things may be a little bit harder than it is for others. My own background is that of a typical Asian from a Tiger parenting household. If you know anything about this sort of childhood, you’ll realize that instilling a team perspective isn’t really something that’s a forte for parents such as mine.
I was almost completely academically oriented while growing up, and sports in general were somewhat frowned upon by my parents. Despite growing up in the South, I had no idea what football really was (an attitude encouraged by my parents), and didn’t know of its excellent history with making players understand that they are part of a larger team, and that as the team rises or falls, so do they. (I got my first inkling of this when I watched Friday Night Lights, which I highly recommend as a tv show.)
The bottom line here for me here is that everyone is usually a part of something bigger, whether they want to be or not. If you work, you’re in the boat with all the other people. If you don’t get to have a choice about that, then why not make the best of the situation?
After pulling all of these things together, I’m left with a handful of questions that I think I should always ask myself when considering my job:
1) Are you able to accept feedback from other people? Are you able to give your own input or feedback?
2) Are you afraid to let other people know what you’re thinking? Do you trust the other people to respect your opinion and not dismiss it out of hand?
3) Do you like working with the other people?
And the biggest question of all:
4) At the end of the day when all is said and done (whether it’s good, bad, or just ugly), can you come back together and work together again? And do you even want to?
Five Dysfunctions had a mixed reception by our product team, so everything stated above is just my own opinion. I’m not quite sure where some of my coworkers stand on the principles, but I know that for myself, I now view our team through an entirely different lens. And that’s a very good thing. My coworkers are going to have bad days sometimes, and so will I. We won’t always agree on how to do things. But that’s ok, because none of us are perfect. What matters is that we always move forward.
So, although I came to the book somewhat reluctantly, I do think that it was an extremely valuable experience. For that, I thank my team members for having put it across my path.
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