Why Teams Fail, Part 5: Personal Status Can Kill a Results-Focused Workplace

Personal Status Can Kill a Results-Focused Workplace

This is the final installment in our 5-part Why Teams Fail series in which we cover common dysfunctions that cause a breakdown in team dynamics. In Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4, we discussed the need for team trust, open and honest, sometimes heated debate about issues, complete buy-in commitment to the decision, and the need for clear communication of the decision, which leads to the team being accountable to each other for the results and is the focus of this week’s story: Why Personal Status Can Kill a Results-Focused Workplace.

Another way to phrase this final dysfunction is this: if the team doesn’t feel accountable to each other for the process and results because they aren’t really committed to the cause, and that lack of commitment is because they didn’t really participate in the open and honest conversation because they didn’t really trust that their honest input would be taken the way it was intended and not personally, then why on earth would they give a damn about the results?

That’s a lot to absorb, but it is the primary reason that management teams engage in these dysfunctional behaviors to begin with.

We have talked about the need for trust and what that really means. We have talked about how the team trust is critical to allowing the real conversation to take place around an issue and how having the entire team engaged in the open debate leads to complete buy-in, agree or not. We have talked about the problem with consensus, or the pursuit of consensus and how that leads to poor decisions. We have seen how complete commitment to the decision and clarity of that decision creates accountability within the team and fosters a team that holds each other accountable.

If all this isn’t happening, the team can be much more focused on personal results and status and not team/company results. In other words, if the team isn’t focused on the success of the company, human nature raises its ugly head once again. Sometimes people are happy just being part of the team and the status that brings to them personally and have no real investment in the results.

There are two parts to this behavior: Team status and personal status.

Team Status vs. Personal Status

Team Status vs. Personal Status

Team status means that, to some, just being part of a particular team is enough. For example, being on the board of a museum, being on a decision team for a non-profit organization or being associated with a particular charitable organization is enough. What happens in those positions may not be as important to the individual as the position itself. Just the association with the group or organization is enough. How fun is it to be put on a ‘task team’ at work? Who cares what happens, I’m on the task team!

Personal status means an individual is positioning their personal position or career as more important than the success of the overall team or organization. Participation in discussions revolves around manipulation of the conversation to achieve a result that would enhance their personal situation, not achieve a successful business result.

To Produce, or to Survive: The Human Trap

To Produce, or to Survive: The Human Trap

Many teams are just not results focused, the overall objective is to exist and survive as a team. Politics are saturated with this behavior. Unfortunately, these days, there are few politicians who are genuinely focused on the betterment of society, rather they engage in processes that are more about being able to continue engaging in the process. While the political theater, at all levels and sides, is not the only example of this inattention to results, it is a glaring one.

So, how does a team avoid this human trap for personal betterment over team results? A couple of methods come to mind.

First, it helps for the organization to clearly and publicly state their objectives and goals. Teams that are willing to expose their overarching goals are far more likely to remain focused on those goals. Stating that a team will “try really hard” to accomplish something is not as powerful as stating that accomplishing the goal is how they wish to be ultimately measured by the larger audience. Trying really hard gives a team too many doors to run through, if they fail.

A second and perhaps more obvious method for keeping a team focused is to tie their personal rewards to achievement of the goals of the team. Sales people are typically compensated via commissions. If they don’t achieve the sales goals, their personal compensation suffers. An executive team will typically have some form of bonus structure around achieving the overall goals of the company, whether that be sales, growth, market share or other publicly measurable results.

Prioritize Team Results over Individual Results

Prioritize Team Results over Individual Results

For a team to achieve success as a team, it is important that these performance rewards be tied to the team result and not individual results.

I have seen cases where these goals are created that allow an individual on the team to achieve great success while the team fails. Again, not to simply pick on sales people (but they are such an easy target), I have seen cases where a sales person is very highly compensated for achieving their personal sales goals all while the company as a whole fails to reach successful sales levels, because other sales people didn’t do as well. I have seen situations where a VP of Sales was rewarded for distribution contracts signed, and not for the ultimate performance of those deals. The result was a highly paid VP of Sales and a huge stack of non-performing, worthless contracts.

The team results must take priority over any personal results or the team will simply not operate as a team. I have always told my executive staff, regarding performance-based compensation, “If they’re smiling, I had better be laughing.”

If the team or company results are not the stated goal, then an inattention to the results will be the result. It’s the way we humans are wired.


Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Book

We have spent lots of time here discussing Patrick Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of a team. While I continue to advise you to get the book and make the entire team read it before discussing it as a team, here is a summary to start with on Why Teams Fail:

  1. Absence of Trust. If a team cannot trust that their individual involvement in the team will be taken as non-personal and they can’t engage in conversation without feeling like they are exposing themselves to blowback or hostility it will cause a:
  2. Fear of Conflict. Simply put, if a person feels vulnerable to hostility or negative feedback for engaging in a debate, they won’t participate. And if they don’t participate in the debate, it leads to a:
  3. Lack of Commitment. If team members do not participate in a debate due to lack of trust, they simply won’t commit to the decision. People need to feel like their opinion was heard and acknowledged in order to feel committed to a result, even if they don’t agree with it. If a team member lacks commitment to the decision, they will:
  4. Avoid accountability. We humans are odd creatures but very predictable. How can one be held accountable for a decision they didn’t participate in and didn’t agree with? And if a team member, or the entire team, doesn’t feel accountable for the results of a decision or a goal, they will have:
  5. Inattention to the results. They just won’t care and be far more focused on advancing themselves, their careers of their personal agendas.

I highly advise you to get the book. It’s an easy 1 to 2 hour read and written like a story or fable. I have been a part of many dysfunctional teams and can personally attest to the power of overcoming these five dysfunctions.

Ever encountered the five dysfunctions described in our series on Why Teams Fail? How did your team overcome trust, conflict, commitment, accountability or results-focused issues in the workplace? Are there other tips you would recommend? Tell us in a comment below!