Is Your Team Healthy? These Are the Questions to Ask
I once observed a team in which conflict was the norm. Team members argued. They disagreed. They groused and griped. They couldn’t achieve a meeting of minds on even trivial matters. Everything became an issue, and few issues were resolved amicably. This was not a healthy team, and it was sad to watch because every one of the team members was bright, articulate, and motivated.
A healthy team is characterized by trust, respect, openness, honesty, empathy, and flexibility. People in a healthy team enjoy being around one another instead of trying to find ways to avoid each other. They can disagree with each other—and voice that disagreement—without being perceived as disloyal or eager to find fault. They focus on attacking problems—not each other. When tensions erupt, as they often do, team members can talk about them openly rather than sweeping them under the proverbial rug.
According to one organizational leadership website, healthy teams check seven things at the door: egos, closed minds, domination, selfishness, negativity, personal criticism, and stubbornness. I agree with all but the first: egos. Our egos are part of our personality. According to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the ego mediates the demands of the id, the superego, and reality. The ego keeps us from acting on our basic urges created by the id. We can’t check it at the door. What we can do, though, is manage our egos so that we can more effortlessly curb teamwork-inhibiting behaviors.
How to create healthy teams has been written about in countless articles and entire books, such as Creating and Sustaining Healthy Teams by Hugh Ballou and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Many of these articles and books address such things as building trust, developing team norms, defining roles, building participation, gaining buy-in, and focusing on results.
It can be helpful for the leader to guide the team in a discussion of some tough questions. Among such questions recommended by team-building and coaching expert Sean Glaze are “Who needs to communicate more clearly or frequently?” and “Why would somebody want to join this team? Why would someone leave?” I like Glaze’s comment that “If you keep sweeping problems under the rug, eventually you are bound to trip over them.”
Questions such as those Glaze proposes can help in diagnosing and treating problems. Or you can come up with your own questions, such as: What is one thing this team needs that it doesn’t currently have? If we were to start over as a team, what changes might we make in how we will work together? If we look back on our efforts a year from now, what will we wish we had done differently?
What other questions can you think of?