Deconstructing Dysfunction

Deconstructing Dysfunction

This month we're bringing you guest blog posts from people on our team who are enrolled in TCU classes. They'll be sharing their experiences and things they've learned. Today we're hearing from Quinn Flud.

I’ve always been interested in telling stories. For me that has always centered around filmmaking. Unfortunately for me, and every other wannabe filmmaker out there, that profession stays comfortably in the back of our heads, as far from reach as possible. The job that I would love to get but wasn’t ever sure how to obtain.

So like every dreamer, I got a normal job, sure that one day I would just stumble into my chosen profession. This particular job was different from day one. Right off the bat, it was supposed to be temporary. Just something to hold me over while I moved back to the area. I started on the cabling crew at Telcion and did that for a number of weeks.

One day as I was getting in the work van to head back from a job site, I got a message from Lance. (Lance is the CEO, so I felt like this message was kind of a big deal.)

“I'd like to meet up with you and talk about some video production stuff I'm working on and how you might be able to help me with that.”
Twenty-four hours and one meeting later, I was hired as the first official full-time videographer for Telcion. It was a whirlwind. I’m still not quite sure how it happened so fast, but I was extremely lucky to fall into it. I guess it’s like they say, “When preparation meets opportunity, you get luck”. 

The first day was great. Everyone was kind and it was clear this team was going to be unlike any other that I had been a part of before. I was free to do my job, without having to worry about any office politics.

Shortly after I started, Lance announced the first class of TCU.

“TCU is an internal program that seeks to add value to our employees in the areas of leadership and management.” -Michelle Padilla, creator of TCU

Up until this point, I had been taking mental notes of how this place was run. They were very simple observations but after a while they compounded on one another and I started to get a fuller picture of the kind of company I was working for. And the opportunity to learn from the people who had been crafting this culture for the better part of two decades was something I wasn't going to pass up.

Learning to Salt French Fries

Every job I’ve ever had up to this point starts the same way: stand behind the counter and learn how to use the register, or sit down at your desk and learn how to operate the computer system. Of course I can’t forget my personal favorite—stand in front of the french fries and learn how to salt them. It was hot, greasy, and you’d better hope you didn't have a paper cut. That one turned into a week long exercise. As you can imagine it was a mess.

Building trust is essential for any relationship, but I have found that with many of my past working relationships that can be hard to come by.

Starting out fairly early, I noticed a pattern in most coworkers' behavior. Most first days are pretty predictable. I’d show up for work, and get paired up with someone to train me. They would take me on a small tour of the business and, if I was lucky enough, give me a rundown of my responsibilities. All pretty standard stuff.

Usually forced into the conversation are comments like Watch out for so-and-so, Don’t try to impress anyone, and Keep your head down. I find that people really seem to like sharing their emotional baggage with the new guy. Half the time, the person in question is on trial for a crime they didn't ever commit. This kills the trust in an organization. But like they say, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”

I don’t think that’s exclusive to the jobs I pick either. It seems like whenever someone I know starts a job, they begin to take on the attitude of the company culture that they’re working in. And who can blame them? It’s much easier to adopt the company's culture than to go against the grain and forge your own path.  Unfortunately, many companies have a culture that isn’t worth adopting.

Someone once said “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” I’d like to riff on that: “Show me your coworkers and I’ll show you your attitude.” Usually it’s hot, salty, and an absolute mess.

In a word: dysfunctional.

Dysfunction. Everyone’s got it. No one wants to talk about it.

Dysfunction is tackled head on in the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. Out of every book assigned in TCU, so far, this one has been an absolute standout. 

It follows the story of Kathryn Peterson, the new CEO at Decision Tech. After spending her first two weeks observing the existing company culture, Kathryn sets about uniting a team that is all but broken. 

Patrick’s style uses story as a vessel to deliver a message that I’m sure has humbled many leadership teams and changed many companies. The key to all of this exists in the characters. Each one is an archetype of the many people you may encounter in an organization.

Very often, I found myself sitting in the offsite meetings with Kathryn and her team watching the dysfunction unfold in my head. It’s also not uncommon to find yourself making connections to past coworkers and recognizing their behavior in these characters.

Before I knew it, I started to feel justified in my past behaviors. I even started to pat myself on the back. Yep, I knew it was so-and-so’s fault, they used to do that all the time. Or That’s exactly why I found them so intolerable.

This is exactly the Trojan Horse that Lencioni intended it to be of course, because after a while, any feelings of self-satisfaction turn to dust and you’re left with the glue that holds this book together. This book isn’t just about the people I’ve worked with, it is about me. It’s about that time that a wave of humility washes over you and you realize that this little red book just called your bluff.

Trust, Conflict and Smoking Rugs

Trust is misused so often that its impact is lost.

Most people’s definitions of trust “centers around the ability to predict a person's behavior based on past experience.” I think that's half true but, “In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.”

That is a tall order for any team. I think it’s most people's nature to hold back how they really feel about something. They will do anything to avoid their feelings on a subject. Some are worried about their reputation, they may be concerned with conflict of any kind. A lot of people are worried about their career in general.

More often than not, regardless of the reason, holding back is only going to hurt the team in the long run.

The ability for a team to buy into this model is a direct result of their leader’s buy-in. A leader needs to show some level of vulnerability. This requires being willing to risk losing face in front of the team. Unfortunately, it’s not a risk unless you can lose, but if you won’t take that risk, no one else will.

The failure to build trust sets the stage for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. As Lencioni says, “Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.”

Realistically, conflict between coworkers is inevitable. But it is amazing how often a typical management team will go out of their way to avoid conflict of any kind, opting instead to sweep it under the rug, regardless of the damage it may cause.

Sweeping it under the rug doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, it sounds pretty normal, and it feels like the path of least resistance. Out of sight, out of mind. More often than not though, it’s really more like throwing your rug on top of a fire. Sure, you’ll cover the fire, but you’ll also burn your rug and be left wondering where all that smoke came from. Destructive tactics like this will eventually ruin a team. 
 Of course, I have only discussed two of the five dysfunctions in this book. The others include a lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. These dysfunctions all build upon one another. Understanding just how important it is to be able to identify and deal with these dysfunctions when they pop up is key. Healthy teamwork comes down to practicing these simple truths over a long period of time. You have to stick with it.

If you are trying to change the culture in an organization, it’s not going to happen overnight. Even once it has changed, it still requires regular maintenance. If you don’t, then it can be easy to fall back into the same old trap.

While none of the concepts in this book are overly complicated, Lencioni says “this is about embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence”. If an organization is up for it, I think it is worth the read. It might just save your company from drowning in dysfunction, and maybe, if you're lucky, you can save a few rugs along the way.

This article was contributed by Quinn Flud, Videographer at Telcion.