How to Overcome a Lack of Commitment in a Team (Dysfunction #3)

Is your team unified? What role does communication play in getting people to buy into team decisions?

In his business fable The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni identifies a lack of commitment as the third dysfunction. In his follow-up book, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he shares ways you can break through this challenge.

Read more to learn Lencioni’s advice for getting each member of your team wholeheartedly on the same page.

Overcoming a Lack of Commitment

Some team members might resist going along with a decision even after it’s been made. For example, they might genuinely think the team made a bad decision, or they might simply feel slighted because their ideas weren’t chosen.

(Shortform note: Having team members support a decision they disagree with goes back to trust. If they genuinely trust their teammates’ abilities and judgment, then they can also trust that the decision the team reached was a good one, even if it wasn’t the decision they’d personally have made. By establishing trust—and reminding your team members that they trust each other—you’ve already gone a long way toward overcoming this team dysfunction.)

We’ll go over Lencioni’s method for overcoming a lack of commitment in a team and having them present a united front: 1) ensuring clarity among the team members and 2) requiring them to communicate decisions to their subordinates.

Ensuring Clarity

Lencioni’s first tip for achieving team unity is making sure all team members understand exactly what decision they reached during the meeting. To support a course of action, they first need to know what that course of action will be.

Therefore, right before ending a meeting, clearly and specifically write down and share what the team has agreed to. This is also an opportunity for team members to share anything they’re confused about and to eliminate any ambiguity.

For example, say your team decided to have the company adopt a new type of software. You could write down that the team decided to phase out whatever software your company is currently using and require all employees to start using this new program. If one of your team members assumed the new software would just be an option for employees rather than a requirement, these last few minutes of the meeting are that person’s chance to clear up their confusion.

(Shortform note: Before you can effectively write down the team decision, you must make sure you understand it. A simple way to do this is by paraphrasing what you’ve heard during the discussion—throughout the meeting, put major points into your own words and repeat them back to the team. This provides an opportunity to clear up your confusion.)

Requiring Communication 

Lencioni’s second tip for achieving unity is holding each team member responsible for explaining the decision to everyone who reports to them. By doing so, you’ll make sure they’re personally invested in team unity: They know there will be consequences if they don’t explain the decision willingly and accurately.

It’s not enough for your team members to send a simple email or voicemail communicating the decision to their staff—they must do so either in person or over a phone call so their employees will have the chance to ask questions and voice concerns. This requirement also helps ensure that team members fully understand the decision before they communicate it; since they’ll have to explain the decision and answer questions about it, they’ll want to make sure they understand it themselves.

Requiring “Skin in the Game”

By requiring team members to personally communicate the team’s decisions, you’re giving them what risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls skin in the game.” You’re requiring them to take on some risk: If they don’t deliver the news accurately and impartially, they’ll have to face some sort of consequence. This (relatively small) risk ensures that they’ll act ethically—in everyone’s best interests.

The essence of Taleb’s concept of “skin in the game” is creating a situation where harming others also harms you and helping others also helps you. Here’s how it plays out in this particular case.

Option #1: The unethical option. A team member causes harm to the team and to their subordinates by not communicating the team’s decision, communicating it inaccurately, or offering their own negative opinions of the decision. This will also harm the team member in question since they’ll have to face the consequences you’d previously established—perhaps a formal reprimand or (if necessary) removal from the team.

Option #2: The ethical option. The team member carries out their duties by communicating the team’s decision willingly, accurately, and supportively. This benefits the team (who retain the support of that person’s subordinates), the subordinates (who now understand the decision and what it will mean for them), and the team member (who, rather than facing consequences, strengthens their bonds of trust with the rest of the team). 
How to Overcome a Lack of Commitment in a Team (Dysfunction #3)

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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