Teamwork: Hard to get, easy to lose

Roanne Innes, Business Coach and Leadership Consultant, explains the importance of good teamwork and maintaining optimal cohesiveness.

According to Simon Sinek, a team is not a group of people who work together; a team is a group of people who trust each other.

The best companies are made up of great teams. However, even a company full of high performing employees won’t succeed if those individuals don’t have the ability to work well together.

Good teamwork is essential for high performance in any business, organisation, sports or any group working towards a common goal. Patrick Lencioni tells us it is teamwork that remains the ultimate advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.

While we all recognise the value of teamwork, in most organisations it continues to remain elusive. The fact remains that teams are inherently dysfunctional because they are made up of imperfect human beings.

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Lencioni maintains that organisations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall victim to five natural pitfalls (illustrated in the pyramid at the end of this article).


1. Absence of Trust

Absence of trust is the hardest dysfunction to overcome and it really can make or break a team. In some teams, too much time, energy and good ideas are wasted trying to protect reputation. Employees are often reluctant to ask for help or to offer assistance to others, causing lower morale and unwanted turnover.

In fact the word ‘trust’ is used so often and in so many ways, it has lost its impact. You often hear people say: ‘I trust my co-workers so I don’t need to question how they do their job’; ‘I trust my boss so I just do what he/she tells me to do’ – but these stand in contrast to the type of trust an effective team needs.

Great teams do not hold back from one another. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear. Every effective team needs to have a substantial level of debate. Teams must work towards a foundation of vulnerability-based trust.

Vulnerability-based trust cannot be achieved overnight as it requires:

  • Shared experiences over time
  • Multiple instances of following through and credibility
  • An in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of each team member

Leaders need to demonstrate genuine vulnerability first, and create an environment that does not punish admissions of weakness or failure.

2. Fear of Conflict

A dysfunctional team may have tension, but it doesn’t mean the members have constructive conflict. If team members don’t trust one another, they aren’t going to engage in open, healthy and constructive conflict – they will just preserve a sense of artificial harmony.

Members must learn to accept and engage in passionate, unfiltered debate about what needs to be done to succeed.

The primary purpose of productive conflict is to produce the best solution in the shortest period of time. It is important for members to remember to practice restraint and allow conflicts to resolve naturally. It is equally important to set the expectation that personal attacks will not be tolerated.

Teams that engage in conflict put critical topics on the table for discussion, create opportunities for everyone’s voice to be heard, solve real problems quickly with minimal politics, and have lively, interesting and productive meetings.

3. Lack of Commitment

Is commitment lacking in your organisation? It may have resulted from a lack of healthy debate in meetings, which led to false consensus and no buyin. Productive conflict taps into everyone’s perspectives, which allows everyone to confidently buyin and commit to decisions.

The two greatest reasons for lack of commitment are the desire for consensus and the need for certainty. To avoid these:

  1. Don’t try and seek consensus, nor try to please everyone. It’s rare that everyone agrees on something naturally and quickly. Great teams ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard and genuinely considered. This creates a willingness to support the ultimate decision by the group.
  2. Make a decision. A leader must be comfortable with the prospect of making a decision that may turn out to be wrong. and must also constantly push the group for closure around issues.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

Accountability is a team effort. Team members need to hold each other accountable when behaviours and actions do not support team goals. Ironically, people hesitate to hold one another accountable because they fear jeopardising a valuable personal relationship, and this can cause the relationship to deteriorate as team members begin to resent one another for not living up to expectations and for allowing standards of the group to slip. Peer pressure is the most effective means of producing performance.

Encourage accountability by creating clear standards with defined indicators that enable each team member to know that they are doing their part. The more detailed the action plans and the more specific the performance metrics are, the easier it will be to hold people accountable.

5. Inattention to Results

Sometimes ego and selfpreservation get in the way of company goals, and this results in inattention to results. Instead of focussing on achieving the goals and results of the team, some members may focus on other things, most commonly team status or individual status.

The key is to define goals for the team in a simple measureable way, which leave no room for interpretation when it comes to success. Otherwise it only creates the opportunity for individual ego to sneak in, and that’s often where politics can take over.

You can significantly increase your team results by improving performance via nipping these dysfunctions in the bud. It is difficult and it does take time to build a cohesive team, but it’s not complicated. Keep it simple. AMP

Roanne Innes

Roanne Innes

Roanne Innes is a Business Coach and Leadership Consultant who helps grow Medical and Aesthetic Health businesses and the people that lead them.

She specialises in the development and implementation of business growth and acquisition strategies, leadership coaching and building high performing teams.

For more information call Roanne on 0418 100 748 or visit or email