My Most Memorable Team

A few weeks ago I ran a marathon, and was fortunate enough to be running a similar pace to a young man who was running his first one. After subjecting him to a few miles of unsolicited running advice, he asked me what my favorite business books were. That was an easy question – I had just finished re-reading one of my all-time favorites, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. His “leadership fable” style of storytelling makes it one of the easiest reads you will encounter, and his model for building high-performing teams is both powerful and timeless.

The model outlines five common dysfunctions that hold teams back. When working with teams I prefer more positive framing – The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.

  • Trust – team members are willing to be vulnerable with one another.
  • Conflict – they engage in productive conflict, debating the issues for the pursuit of truth.
  • Commitment – everyone weighs in and gets clarity so that there is buy-in on a decision even when there isn’t consensus.
  • Accountability – peers hold each other accountable, rather than depending on the leader as the sole source.
  • Results – the team puts their collective results ahead of personal goals.

When it comes to building a cohesive team, my favorite thought exercise is reflecting on your most memorable team, and what characteristics made it great. For me that was Datatel’s Colleague Release 18 (R18) Migration Team. I led a cross-functional team including Scott from Product Management, Jeff from Technical Support, Tracy from Professional Services, and Kevin and Assad from R&D.  We had 8 months to move 85% of the customer base to R18, which seemed an impossible task. 

Every member of this team understood and fully embraced the Five Behaviors. We met every week and quickly built high trust – a trust that lasts to this day. That trust in turn enabled productive conflict. Our meetings had candid, open debate, and were frankly some of the most energizing meetings I ever had.

Our open dialogue as a team, coupled with strong support from our executive team ensured full commitment from everyone involved. Even when we had differing opinions on the best course of action, we were still able to fully commit to a decision as a unified team.

We kept clear metrics, including fortnightly company-wide emails with updates on our progress. Our extended team shared an issue log which we reviewed every week, and when something was off track, we talked through it and came up with a plan. This gave us clear accountability across every member of the team, and did so in a non-threatening, objective manner. When it was in the issue log, it got done.

We were all focused on a company-wide goal – moving 85% of our customers to R18 by the end of the year. One executive told me we’d be lucky to finish the year with less than 100 customers still on R17. Thanks to an amazing team, we finished the year with 45 and moved the remainder early the next year.

What’s the most memorable team you’ve ever been a part of? How does it compare to teams you’re on today?

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