UNDERWOOD: Together everybody achieves more

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By Rick Underwood

The NCAA March Madness was all over the TV screens the past few weeks. The “talking heads” analyzed every conceivable dimension of how the teams preformed.

The experts shook their heads and wondered how little Lehigh managed to beat the mighty Duke Blue Devils and how the inconsistent Louisville Cardinals made it to the Final Four.  Further Cats’ fans nervously wondered if the boys could stick together and hang up No. 8. And they did!

Besides outstanding talent and great coaching, what makes the difference when the game is on the line?

What does it mean to peak at the right time? What are the dynamics in any team (work, family, church, social group) that makes them successful?

Research and practical experience teaches us that there are five functions of a team: trust, effective communication, creative conflict resolution, commitment and accountability.

Each of these functions builds on the other and each dynamic must be nurtured. If function becomes dysfunctional along the way, it must be addressed if the team is to continue to be effective.

If not, team members get discouraged, drop off the team, and negative energy sets in and begins to erode the effectiveness of the team.

Obviously, the leader sets the tone of how well the team functions. If effective in enhancing the five functions, the players catch the spirit and play well together.



What are some ways we build trust with others?  First, we make ourselves vulnerable. It is pretty hard to trust someone who thinks they are always right. Arrogance pushes us away and humility and honesty tend to draw us. Second, we do what we say we will do.  Nothing creates mistrust quicker than someone telling us they will do a task and not following through. Moreover, it is important to explain the reasons for not completing the task as promised and or ask for forgiveness if for any reason we couldn’t do what we said we would do. Third, we have to admit we made a mistake. None of us are perfect, and all of us are going to do the wrong thing sometimes. It takes a big person to admit a mistake and then try to correct it.  

How are you doing in your week to week activities as a leader of your team? Are you willing to humble yourself and admit when you blow it? Do you follow through on your commitments? Do you work to rebuild trust when it is broken? How does it feel to be a part of your team?


Effective communication and creative conflict resolution skills

The second and third functions of a team are effective communication and creative conflict resolution.  What does it mean to be a great communicator?  First, we must be willing and able to listen intently to person’s needs. Listening is more than keeping silent and shaking our head and making eye contact.

Active listening means we are paying attention to the content and feelings. It means we are paying attention to all of the non-verbal messages including body language. Further, active listening means we are checking out what we are hearing and making sure there is a shared understanding. Second, effective communication means we are offering good feedback or exposure to what we are thinking and feeling.

Without completing this feedback loop, the person we are talking with is left to draw their own conclusions about what we experiencing.

In order to build a successful team the effective communication skills must be used to approach conflicts and disagreements. Conflict is inevitable.

Although it might be appropriate to avoid a problem for a short time, long-term avoidance of conflict simply leads to problems. Everyone has developed a preferred style of dealing with conflict.

Most of us use some combination of these approaches: competing, accommodating, compromising, and avoiding. Obviously, it works best to learn to create win / win or compromising solutions if at all possible. 

How are you and how have you done as a leader on your team?  Do we compulsively avoid problems until they cause permanent damage?

Conversely, do we always have to have our way? Or can you work to find a middle ground?  Have you continued to work on your active listening skills when you are trying to understand the other person’s point of view?


Commitment and accountability

If we are nurturing the first three functions of the team we will naturally experience more commitment and accountability on our team. Good leaders model commitment to the vision or goals of the team. Further, a good leader helps others set and meet personal goals as they journey toward high achievement.

For example, Coach Cal demonstrates and invites 100 percent commitment to winning a national championship, but at the same time he does everything he can to help his players reach their goal to play at the next level.

Commitment is contagious. We have all heard it and felt it this week as we rally behind our favorite team.

Accountability naturally follows all of these other functions. We can’t motivate others to play or perform their best. However, we can explore with each person on the team the role they play and encourage them to take responsibility or be accountable for that small, medium or large role.

John Wooden used to say of his UCLA teams that won 10 national championships that his team was like an automobile. The stars like Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the engine, but the other players’ roles were like the wheels or the lug nuts on the wheels.

Without one lug nut, the car doesn’t run. The same is true on all of our teams.

Everyone must be accountable to the rest of the team for their individual performance of whatever role they have been assigned.

Are you committed to your team? Are you committed to your teammates and are you willing to hold them accountable for their actions and inactions?

Over the past 8 years I have had the opportunity of working with various profit and non-profit organizations. In one way or another work has always been about helping the organizations find ways to make their team more functional.

Some want us to fix things. Others want us to tell them how to fix things. When it works, we are able to create a process in which the people in those organizations take responsibility for changing their dysfunctions so that their team can once again or for the first time play well together. 

If your team (work, family, social group, church, civic group) is not achieving great results, it may be time to do some work on the dysfunctions of your team.

The Cats did it, and you can too.

What do you need to do to improve your team’s effectiveness? 


Rick Underwood is minister at Hempridge Baptist Church and a performance consultant and managing partner of the Leadership Management Institute. He can be reached at nextlevelinstitute@insightbb.com.