Posts Tagged dysfunction
This has been a busy week in University Place. Two events have shaken this community in recent days and both times I found myself on television as a bystander while events unfolded. The first was a city council meeting where parents and students showed up in large numbers after being convinced that the youth sports program of the city was about to be decimated by revenue shortfalls and looming budget cuts. While it was accurate that the shortfalls will likely mean 25% budget cuts across the board, the cutting of youth sports was not yet in the proposal loop. The political nature of the method used to bring this issue up on the eve of the election was called into question and the final result: two long time council members ousted from their positions and lots of angry residents that no longer trust the council or the city staff. I feel bad for Debbie Klosowski who takes over as Mayor in December. She has a significant amount of repair work to do.
In the following video, look for me on the right side in the first wide angle shot of the audience. My brother Jim behind me and to my right. I’m sitting next to school board member and long time friend, Mary Lu Dickinson.
The second was an incident at my son’s middle school that involved an impostor who pretended to be a military veteran and spent three hours on campus before it was discovered that he actually posed a threat to student safety.
At the board meeting the following night, concerned parents expressed their frustration over the incident. The news crew from KING TV were there again with camera at the ready. Nobody wanted to relive the issue again, but that seems unavoidable for the near future as new information continues to come to light. Since this person was on campus for over three hours, it’s likely they will never have all the details of what was said and to whom.
What this incident does remind us of is the daily challenges we face in maintaining trust after we’ve earned it. In both cases, the people most affected — city council and school administration — had earned trust and respect from years of dedicated accomplishment. Events like this can bring all of that crashing down around you in a few short minutes of either best intentions gone awry or inadvertent complacency. Nobody deserves the lost trust that emerged from both these incidents, but that is the price being paid – at least for the moment.
One conversation I had with a teacher today reminded me of how difficult change is for all of us. Unfettered by accountability or rigorous reinforcement, we typically return to old habits rather than sustaining institutional change. In many ways, both incidents are the result of this aspect of both leadership and followership. For the council, 15 years of spending growth to keep pace with city development kept them from seeing the financial downturn on the horizon. As a result, 4 million in reserve disappeared literally overnight with little planning in place to address this shortfall. For the school district, leading edge procedures and policies were decayed by a close knit community built on an open door policy that is decades old. In a community like this, visitor badges and staff ID seemed unnecessary and even cumbersome. How to change minds and sensibilities?
Kotter and Cohen (2002) bring us the best framework for institutionalizing change. 8 steps that seek not only change, but sustainability — and that’s really what’s at stake here.
Kotter, J. P., & Cohen, D. S. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Lencioni (2002) paints a wonderful picture of the development of teams that captures a valid representation of team renewal that also serves as a reflection on the key components of ongoing team development.
At the foundation and consistent with my own beliefs is the critical need for trust at the base of a team’s pyramid. But, as Lencioni points out, these layers of concerns must be seen as interrelated in order to get at the core of team development. Trust, by itself, is insufficient for achieving the kind of team dynamics that result in accomplishment beyond expectations, which serves as the definition of a high functioning team.
The purpose of this blog entry is not to recount all aspects of this model of team assessment. In my own recent experience I have been involved in two ways with teams that provide diametrically opposite examples of teams at their best and worst.
As a member of a larger logistical team, I have been both frustrated and frustrating because of an absence of the foundational trust aspect that is required for team development. While I value that I have a role to play in this team’s success or lack thereof, it seems outside my power and control to initiate actions aimed at resolving deficiencies at multiple layers of the pyramid. At the core, this team has little trust due to a top-down management style that is inherently paranoid. With many demonstrations of a sincere lack of trust, it is clear that what follows is a general fear of conflict and a generative focus on individual well-being. Thus, few members of the team have the ability to commit to the team and half of the team has tendered their resignation. This act of exasperation is the ultimate demonstration of avoidance and, by virtue of this, despite commitments to the contrary, there is no clear indication that results are in anyone’s conscious focus.
Interestingly, however, I also serve as a leader on a more local team that is one step removed from the higher leadership team. Similar to Lencioni’s example, this departmental team is functioning well within its own context. As a leader of this team, trust was a critical component of our initial stages of development. As noted in another text, Katzenbach & Smith (1993) define a leadership style that is effective at addressing the team strategies denoted by Lencioni. Development of trust is often associated with a leadership attitude that inspires team members. Leaders must often be seen as vulnerable in order to illicit contributions from other members that develop out of concern for the well-being of the team and organization — and each other. Thus, this focus satisfies three areas of the triangle – trust, commitment, and results. Accountability and conflict emerge in the processes once team members are engaged. Thus, we get a self-perpetuating cycle of commitment and accountability.
As Katzenbach & Smith point out, each team is unique in defining the skills needed to lead. While in one instance, a leadership style applied as highly management oriented fails, in another example, honest servant leadership leads to distinct gains. This should not be used as an argument for a more lenient leadership style. Quite the contrary, this is just a cautionary tale that reinforces the fact that each team of experience needs to be uniquely addressed as to its respective strengths and weaknesses. The dynamics of team development continue to emerge as unique and interesting in the realm of leadership research.