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Pat Lencioni’s team building activities to grow stronger organisations

Organisational culture expert Patrick Lencioni on team building


Building strong and trusting teams is difficult in today's workplace. Teams are dispersed, mental health and wellbeing issues are factors, and the so-called Great Resignation has exacerbated the “War on Talent.” For years leaders have heard that worldwide, 85% of full-time employees are disengaged at work. But team building activities don’t have to be trips to the zoo to climb trees, says organisational expert Patrick Lencioni.

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Building high-performing teams that trust each other

At his Global Headline event for Growth Faculty Patrick Lencioni – Building High-Performing Teams, attracting registrations from 4000 delegates from 29 countries, Pat outlined effective team building activities to help team members boost trust, communication, and collaboration within their group. By focusing on fostering healthy relationships, team members and leaders can overcome many of today's workplace challenges.

Overview of Pat's team building activities

Scroll down for more detail, but here is a snapshot.

The 4 Disciplines Model

By far the biggest multiplier of a company’s knowledge is having healthy teams. Healthy teams start with improving leadership skills. Here’s what must happen at the top:

1.         Build a chohesive leadership team. The leadership team must share objectives and be behaviourally cohesive.

2.         Create clarity. Everyone on the team must be rowing in the same direction. The leaders at the top must be in lockstep with each other around 6 Critical Questions:

Why do we exist?

How do we behave?

What do we do?

How will we succeed?

What is important, right now?

Who must do what?

3.         Over-communicate clarity. Constantly reminding people about the answer to the 6 questions.

4.         Reinforce clarity. You embed the answers to your 6 Critical Questions into the fabric of your organisation with just enough procedures and processes for clarity (and no more). 


Team building exercise: Answer 6 Critical Questions

Bringing the team together to answer the 6 Critical Questions (above) is a good team building exercise for lifting trust in the team, and becoming comfortable with conflict. Trust is at the core of everything that is right or wrong with any team. An absence of trust is a warning signal that team members are not being vulnerable with each other, as Pat’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team explains.


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust. – It’s vital for teams to have vulnerability-based trust at their core. This is where people feel safe to say ‘I don’t know answer to that’, ‘I think I made a mistake’, ‘I’m sorry.’ No one is perfect but team members must be vulnerable and the leader has to go first. If the leader can’t be vulnerable then the people on the team can’t be expected to be vulnerable either. It is that important.

·       Team building exercise: Have the team share where each of them grew up, what order in the family they are, and the most difficult challenge in their childhood. People will look at each other like they’ve just met. It’s a great leveller and makes everyone a little more vulnerable. It helps us avoid ‘fundamental attribution error” – when we judge others unfairly because we don’t understand them.


Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict – Conflict is a good thing on a team, but not inter-personal conflict. It’s ideological conflict – conflict around ideas – conflict around the pursuit of truth. When there is trust you can argue without the sting. When we don’t have conflict around ideas and issues it eventually ferments into conflict around people. They start to dislike each other.

·       Team building exercise: When someone at work engages in healthy conflict for the first time, have the leader say ‘This is awesome! Do it more often!’ This is real time permission so they don’t feel guilt or angst. Teams that don’t have conflict are not great places to work. Teams that learn to engage in healthy conflict mean people are always free to say what they think at work.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment – Weigh in is required for buy in. On a leadership team, everyone should weigh in with their ideas and their opinions. That doesn’t mean there will always be consensus. The importance of weighing in is that the leader can say ‘Ok, my job is to break the tie, it’s not going to make everyone happy, but I’ve taken into account everything said today.” Nobody will commit to a decision if they didn’t passionately weigh into a discussion. As former CEO of Intel Andy Grove was fond of saying: “We are going to disagree and commit.”

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of accountability – The primary source of accountability on a team is not the leader. The primary source are peers. The best teams call somebody out in real time. The problem is if the leader is not willing to hold people accountable the others will think ‘well I’m not going to do your dirty work.’

·       Team building exercise: A team effectiveness exercise is to have everybody write down one positive thing that each person does for the team (by being who they are). Then one behaviour of each that hurts the team (ie. what they need to get better at). Variation: Ask each team member ‘How comfortable do you feel about making a comment about other people’s work?’

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to results – Most people on a leadership on a team are focused on results but is the at the organisational level? It’s very dangerous to have a CEO who lobbies for their own former department (marketing, sales, finance, etc). It can cause in-fighting within the company. Everyone should be focused on the results of Team #1 – the organisation.

Team building exercise: Get to know them on a deeper level

To get to know teammates on a deeper level, have each take the 6 Types of Working Genius leadership tool. It takes 10 minutes to fill out and 15 minutes to go over it with a team. This gives teammates permission to showcase what they’re good at and admit what they’re not good at.

Hire and coach ideal team players

Of course your high performing team will need great team players.But what makes an ideal team player? Patrick Lencioni’s research, set out in his bestselling business book The Ideal Team Player, shows it’s a combination of 3 virtues.

3 virtues of an Ideal Team Player

Humble – they share credit and celebrate the team’s collective win.

Hungry – they are motivated and diligent. They go above and beyond.

Smart – they are emotionally intelligent and exercise great judgement.

An ideal team player must have all 3 attributes.Having only 1 or 2 of these virtues makes you less than ideal.

Less-than-ideal team players with only two virtues:

The lovable slacker: Humble and smart but not hungry, this player does the minimum.

The skilful politician: Hungry and smart but not humble. This player looks for the personal benefit.

The accidental mess-maker: Hungry and humble but not smart. They have a good attitude but you have to clean up their mistakes.

Unsuitable team players with only one virtue:

The pawn: Only humble. They may be dear human being but to work on a team you need more than that.

The bulldozer. Only hungry. They don’t too well unless they have a job that doesn’t require them to work with other people.

 The charmer. Only smart. They’re good with people and entertaining but that’s pretty much it. 

Team building exercise: Developing your team

1.      Explain ‘Hungry, Humble, Smart’. Ask everyone on the team to rank themselves on the 3 values. ‘Which is the third (your weakest of your 3 virtues)? As the leader, go first and say ‘Okay I struggle with this one.’

2.     Help team members identify and acknowledge their area for improvement. You turn everyone on your team into coaches. Have each ‘weak group’ help each other with ideas for improvement. This exercise is doubly helpful because it helps with accountability and conflict.

3.     Constantly remind them. We need the courage to call them out: “Okay I see you doing that thing that you said you do.”

Hiring ideal team players:

You gain a strong advantage if you can hire for hungry, humble and smart. Here are Pat’s tips for hiring well:

1.     Stop focusing on technical skills over behavioural/attitudinal skills

2.      Improve interviewing: We’ve got to stop doing traditional interviews. Conduct non-traditional interviews (take them shopping or to your kid’s basketball practice). For virtual interviews ask them to show you something in their house that has meaning for them.

3.     Ask questions more than once. Keep probing. Ask them what others think of aspects of their personalities.

4.     Scare people with sincerity. “This aspect of the job is not going to be easy or fun, and if you’re not happy with this, then this is the time to say it’s not the job for you.” 

In other words, it doesn't have to be only physical activities to build high-performing teams. Team building exercises that focus on trust, vulnerability, communication, and clarity of purpose have the potential to positively impact team dynamics, resulting in more productive and innovative teams going forward.

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