World Business Forum 2011: How Vulnerability Helps Shape Teamwork

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There are multiple factors that influence the success--or failure--of work teams, including the chemistry between people and a group's commitment to achieving shared goals. But one of the most important attributes of great teams is vulnerability, says author and consultant Patrick Lencioni.

There are multiple factors that influence the success--or failure--of work teams, including the chemistry between people and a group's commitment to achieving shared goals. But one of the most important attributes of great teams is vulnerability, says author and consultant Patrick Lencioni.Vulnerability is a critical component of great teams for decision-makers to consider, because when people admit their shortcomings or mistakes they've made, it creates a trusting bond that strengthens a team like nothing else and often leads teams to outperform other teams, says Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team who spoke today at the World Business Forum in New York.

Great teams also require people who are willing and capable of engaging in conflict, says Lencioni. Not destructive personal conflict but constructive debates around issues where people aren't afraid to hold back their opinions.

"If people don't weigh in they don't buy in," says Lencioni. He points to how great relationships at home and at work involve people who are willing to passionately disagree on topics in order to make decisions.

Some of the best characteristics to look for in people who can be solid team members are "humble and hungry people," or those who are willing to put the needs of the team ahead of their own and are eager to obtain results, says Lencioni.

Key characteristics of different generations

Of course, it's also important to remember that each person "looks at the world through a unique lens" and that each generation of people is shaped by the events that occurred when they were younger, says Tamara Erickson, a consultant at management consulting firm The Concours Group and a member of the executive team at Moxie Software.

For instance, the most important characteristic that's influenced Baby Boomers in their work careers, says Erickson, is one that is rarely mentioned. Thanks to overcrowded classrooms, many Boomers attended at least part of their schooling in temporary shelters. These experiences had a subliminal effect on them, says Erickson.

"They grew up in a world that was fundamentally too small for them" where there wasn't enough room in the classroom or enough college admissions available or even enough first jobs, says Erickson. "If they slowed down for even a second there would be ten Boomers standing in line behind them ready to take the job," says Erickson. It's a component of what has shaped Boomers in the workplace and one that greatly influences how they operate in a team setting.

Meanwhile, terrorism was the primary influencing event for Gen Yers (born between 1980 to 1995), says Erickson. "They don't approach the world with fear but they live life fully in the here and now," says Erickson. "They want to make sure what they do today is meaningful and challenging and fun if possible. This generation does not plan, they coordinate."

Because each generation has different backgrounds and perspectives on the world, they each approach teamwork differently, notes Erickson.

Another critical component to forming great teams is the ability of organizational leaders to make effective people decisions. While genetics and career development play significant roles in the career paths of individuals, "nothing is more important" for career success than "making great people decisions" since the success of leaders is ultimately dependent upon the achievements of the people who support them, says Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, author of Great People Decisions and a leading thinker on hiring and promotion decisions.

Fortunately, says Fernandez-Araoz, the ability to make stellar personnel decisions isn't an art or a gut instinct. "It's a craft and a discipline that can be learned," he says.

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