Posts in Category: Development

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The One & Only Team Dysfunction

Teams don’t always function well. We have an abundance of theories and practices about how to identify team dysfunctions and how to deal with them. But I’ve really only come across one fundamental dysfunction in all my years working with leaders and their teams.

A team is a network of one-on-one relationships in which great work can get done. Blaming, conflict avoidance, inattention to results and lack of commitment aren’t dysfunctions of this network of relationships. They are symptoms that reveal the single underlying cause of all team performance problems and the one and only dysfunction worth addressing.

The one and only dysfunction of a team is our inability to build resilient, trusting relationships with each and every other member of our team.

For the moment, let’s put aside the symptoms we normally treat and address this dysfunction head on. Let’s begin by distinguishing the characteristics of a healthy, effective one-on-one relationship at work.


I define a “working” relationship as one in which we:

  • Acknowledge we are both committed, competent and well-intended
  • Understand our roles and the relationship between them
  • Have been explicit with each other about what we do and can expect from each other within this role relationship
  • Agree that, because we are different observers, we will have different points of view and that our differences (which are typically referred to as “conflict”) represent opportunities to learn from one another, to innovate and to co-create.

When will we know we have a healthy working relationship?

When we can have whatever conversations we need to have with one another spontaneously—whenever we need to have them—to coordinate our actions without things devolving into an interpersonal breakdown. When trust increases as we discuss our differences. When, in fact, our differences define our relationship and we exploit them for our mutual benefit. When they have become fundamental to our ability to perform.


All too often I see teams skip or try to avoid this whole issue of building their working relationships. Partly because they believe anything to do with relationships is “soft skills” and will take up a lot of unnecessary time. True, it will take time. But that time is insignificant compared to the time we already spend creating and running workarounds so that our relationships that aren’t working don’t stop us from getting work done (however sub-optimally).

Yet, even when team members realize they need to take time to work on their relationships, they still don’t. Why? Quite often it’s simply because we actually don’t know how to go about doing so. This is, after all, not something we were taught to do in business school, in primary school or anywhere in between.

What we don’t know how to do often appears difficult until we know how to do it.

What’s missing for us to have working relationships that work? A shared, straightforward, concrete design that informs our conversations.

Where go our conversations, so go our relationships. When we learn what conversations to have to build relationship—and how to have them—we can get at the root cause of our team’s dysfunction.

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Mark Cappellino helps leaders and leadership teams transform their relationships in order to leverage their impact where culture and strategy intersect.

Teambuilding: Save Your Money

Why is it that people roll their eyes when you mention the next teambuilding exercise or event? Why do they wearily glance at each other with that look of “here-we-go-again” skepticism? It’s because historically they’ve experienced this as a waste of time. Nothing changes–or if it does, it’s not sustainable.

Don’t waste another unproductive hour on teambuilding.

I propose that what we refer to as “team” and “teambuilding” are not as they appear.

A team is a network of one-on-one relationships. Not a group of people.

Effective teambuilding is essentially building those one-on-one relationships.

What often passes for teambuilding is an external solution imposed on a group of people referred to as a “team”.

Typically, that solution overlooks the individualized learning required within each one-on-one relationship.

How often have you participated in a teambuilding workshop and agreed with the topics or insights (e.g., dysfunctions) that are presented but did not learn anything new that, if applied, would improve your team’s performance?  I’ve often asked, “If a team determines that it needs to be more collaborative, where do you ‘apply the wrench’?”  In other words, if a team is going to learn to become more collaborative, where does this learning happen?

I suggest that all learning is individual and is applied, in this case, uniquely within each one-on-one relationship.

Measurable team performance is the culmination of all that transpires in the conversations within the relationships between team members. It is the sum of all of the parts of the network of relationships we refer to as “team”.

If a team is performing well, it is a reflection of the design (think prenuptial) of the one-on-one relationships that facilitate the conversations.

In effect, teambuilding requires we design and build each of our relationships within our team–one at a time. In this way, the building blocks of “team” are our one-on-one relationships.

The question then becomes according to what design do we build?

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Mark Cappellino helps leaders and leadership teams transform their relationships in order to leverage their impact where culture and strategy intersect.

Democratizing Employee Development

General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welch famously once said,

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.

If that’s true, why do so many organizations — perhaps including yours — evaluate employees purely on performance instead of their ability to learn, and translate the learning to action?

We know that tracking performance without regard to how it is achieved is problematic. We’ve all known someone who gets results but leaves destruction in their wake, and is toxic to the organization. Some organizations have tried to mitigate this by looking at competencies — how someone does what they do, but this tends to be secondary, most organizations are focused on just getting the results.

What if you shifted your whole evaluation and reward structure to focus on how people are applying what they learn to challenges they face at work?

What would this look like?

  • You would document and measure how learning has been leveraged — including providing a way for employees to share their learning experiences and tell stories about how their training, mentoring, coaching or other experiences have helped them with a challenge on the job.
  • You would reward those employees who show they are making the most of available resources by providing them access to additional opportunities (assignments, projects, job changes) and resources (experts, mentors, coaches, training courses and programs). For example, an employee who shares the story of how mentoring helped them make a leap to a new role is a good future candidate for executive coaching.
  • You would make access to high potential and leadership programs contingent on demonstrating ability to learn, and would make the process transparent and accessible to all.
  • You would encourage employees to act as experts and mentors, and make it easy for them to connect with people they can help.

What effects would this have?

  • You could measure how the organization is improving its ability to learn so the organization can “learn how to learn”.
  • Employee engagement would improve significantly because you’d be providing clear learning opportunities and development paths.
  • You would have a continuously reinforcing development loop — truly creating a learning culture in the organization.

Can you change the way you evaluate performance? Is your organization already headed on this path? Can you achieve the ultimate competitive advantage?

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Scott Simpson helps organizations effectively leverage technology to assess and develop talent.

Feedback that Inspires

Perhaps the most important factor in employee engagement is the employee's relationship with their immediate boss. How and when a leader provides feedback has a large impact on how people think and feel about working for them. We have observed many leaders over the years. There are many ways to be an effective leader, however some leadership behaviors have a much more positive impact on employee engagement than others. One thing great leaders do differently is how and when they provide feedback. Here are some of the most important lessons we have learned.

Frequent feedback is better than infrequent feedback. Some leaders think that no news is good news, but it isn't good leadership. People should never wonder where they stand with their boss. It creates unnecessary anxiety and fear. More feedback is better than infrequent feedback and the more specific and close it is to the event, the more effective it is.

Knowing when, where and how to deliver feedback is as important as the frequency. The goal of feedback is to encourage and inspire better future performance, not to punish past behavior or publicly embarrass or hurt people. When delivering feedback, begin with the end in mind. How do you want your employee to behave in the future and how do you want them to think and feel about you as their leader and about the company they work for. It is important for feedback to be experienced as a positive learning experience rather than punishment.

Feedback should not just be negative. Lee's Mom used to say "You get more in life with honey than with vinegar." You accomplish more and bring out the best in people when you catch them doing things right and provide acknowledgement and praise instead of just looking for what they are doing wrong. Most leaders think of themselves as problem solvers rather than cheerleaders and coaches!

Here is a powerful exercise that Ken learned when working as an executive coach at ConAgra Foods that makes a big difference in how people feel about coming to work.

The Ten-Dime Exercise:

Put ten dimes in your right pocket and move a dime each time you catch someone doing something right and give sincere positive feedback. At the end of the day, see how many dimes you have moved from your right pocket to your left pocket. If you haven't moved all ten, try harder the next day and track your progress over time.

Ken has given this exercise to many leaders over the years and they are startled at how challenging it is for them to catch people doing things right because their bias is to look for what is wrong that needs to be fixed! Spring is a time of new beginnings and renewal. Make this spring a time for you to focus on giving feedback that inspires.

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Ken Estridge helps executives quickly find their edge, fine tune their skills and take their success to the next level.

Learning Faster

Why isn’t your organization learning faster?

Why can’t your organization learn and adapt quickly to what’s happening? You already have a shared vision and a common purpose. You’ve hired knowledgeable people. People who excel at solving problems inside their area of expertise. People who know what they don’t know in their field–and then go out and acquire that missing knowledge.

So why do your teams still get confounded about how to respond to chaotic or ambiguous circumstances? What stops us from moving forward together?

“Learning From”

Your people learn, individually. To adapt to what’s happening, we need to learn together.

What we individually and collectively know is nothing compared to what we can individually and collectively learn through conversation.

Individually, we bring what we already know (our knowledge) and what we are currently solving for (our expertise) to our work. This is what we were hired for. However, in an environment defined by constant change and increasing complexity, our knowledge and expertise are insufficient relative to what’s emerging. Even the “smartest person” on the team or in the company has a limit to their perspective and what they can offer in the midst of solving for what we’ve not seen before. This is where we have to learn our way forward together.

When we come together to solve our problems, we usually orient towards learning from each other. We look to combine our individual knowledge. As in, let me add what you know to what I know. This is what limits us from moving forward effectively. What we come up with will be, at best, a prescriptive solution based on our combined individual expertise. What we learn from each other can still be insufficient to what’s emerging.

To adapt, we need to do much more than combine our knowledge. What we know isn’t going to solve our problems.

Adaptation calls for a multiplicative approach. To invent and innovate, we need to be in conversations that accelerate what we learn WITH each other.

“Learning With”

Learning with each other takes a certain willingness to be vulnerable.

Talking about what we do know reinforces our personal brand as a “smart” expert. But many of us are uncomfortable talking with each other about what we don’t know. Sharing the limits of our competence and knowledge feels as if we’re making ourselves vulnerable: after all, we risk jeopardizing our brand as “expert” if we admit what we don’t know–or worse, if we discover the limits of our knowledge in the presence of our peers.


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Mark Cappellino helps leaders and leadership teams transform their relationships in order to leverage their impact where culture and strategy intersect.