“In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…The A-Team.”
So begins one of the greatest stories about teamwork ever told.
The right project management software can help your team function like The A-Team, even without a souped-up GMC Vandura van.
Unfortunately, the teamwork displayed by The A-Team was a lesson lost on some.
The A-Team Model of Teamwork
For five seasons, from 1983 to 1987, The A-Team aired on NBC, teaching a generation of children the importance of teamwork.
- John “Hannibal” Smith is the team’s unwavering leader and never backs down from a challenge. His methods are unorthodox and sometimes downright negligent, but he always has a plan and manages to keep his cool even as the world explodes around him.
- Templeton “Faceman” Peck is the charmer of the team. If you just met him, it might seem like he is only looking out for himself, but Face always puts his neck on the line when his team needs him. He can talk his way out of any jam, and he is a whiz with numbers and inventory, ensuring that the team always has what it needs to succeed.
- H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock is the team’s ace pilot and crack up. He can fly anything with a cockpit and his constant wisecracking keeps things loose. At times, his playful impersonations drift into psychotic delusions, but his brilliant mind is crystal clear when it comes to the team’s well-being.
- Bosco “Bad Attitude” Baracus brings almost superhuman strength, confidence, and mastery of all things mechanical to the team. He takes a direct approach to problem-solving, cutting through politics to get things done. Despite his nickname and his short temper, the kindhearted B.A. would willingly put his own life on the line to save a friend.
In short, The A-Team nicely illustrates the ideal characteristics of a team as outlined in Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
5 Dysfunctions of a Team
Because they trust each other with their lives, they are never afraid to challenge each other when they don’t agree on something. And because they are honest with each other, they can fully commit to a plan knowing that all opinions have been heard. With full commitment from the team, a clear and actionable goal can be set. And with everyone’s focus trained on the team’s collective goal, The A-Team always succeeds.
But, unlike television, history doesn’t always have a happy ending. There are many examples of large, successful corporations that lost sight of the collective goal and failed spectacularly as a result.
Let’s take a look at the five dysfunctions, and how several high-profile companies have struggled with them.
1. Absence of Trust
American Apparel was founded in 1989 by Canadian businessman Dov Charney. As the company rose to prominence, an alarming trend of sexual misconduct began to emerge. Charney and the company were barraged by a string of sexual harassment lawsuits that revealed, at the very least, a disturbing lack of professionalism in the workplace.
The company also faced criticism for terminating an employee upon his return from chemotherapy treatment, hiring and firing employees based on their level of attractiveness, and incidents of racist and homophobic verbal abuse in the workplace.
As an employee working in these conditions, what level of trust would you have for those around you?
The fallout: In December of 2014, Charney was fired as CEO amid the mounting allegations against him and hundreds of millions of dollars in company losses since 2009. American Apparel filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016 while fighting numerous lawsuits by Charney.
In January of 2017, Canada’s Gildan Activewear purchased the American Apparel brand for $88 million in a bankruptcy auction. The embattled company then laid off about 2,400 employees and started shutting down and selling off all of its physical locations, ending its reign as America’s largest garment maker.
The takeaway: A CEO establishes the culture for an entire company. A company that can not trust its CEO can not trust anything, and a company without trust is a company without open communication.
2. Fear of Conflict
In his 2008 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell devotes a chapter to Korean Air and a pervasive cockpit culture that prevented co-pilots from challenging their pilot. In addition to the stark Power Distance Index, in which the pilot is beyond question, the Korean language also has six different levels of conversational familiarity and a receiver orientation, placing the onus on the listener to decipher what is being communicated.
The problem was not unique to Asia. Gladwell also found that a crew of Colombian pilots aboard Avianca Flight 52 in 1990, when interacting with American Air Traffic controllers at JFK International, showed too much deference to their perceived superiors, as far as neglecting to notify the tower that their plane was running out of fuel while still waiting in a holding pattern.
The fallout: Avianca Flight 52 crashed after running out of fuel during an attempted landing at JFK. Between 1970 and 1999 Korean Air lost 16 aircraft, resulting in more than 700 deaths due to crashes. In 1999, Korean Air took drastic measures to address the communication woes — ceasing to hire pilots out of the Air Force and bringing in foreign pilots — and has not had a single fatal accident since then.
The takeaway: For any team to function properly, open and unfettered lines of communication are absolutely imperative. In the case of an airline, radical candor is a matter of life and death on a large scale.
3. Lack of Commitment
The Target Corporation is the second-largest discount retailer in America, behind only Walmart, so an expansion north across the border into Canada seemed like an airtight strategy for success. In 2011, Target Canada acquired more than 100 former Zellers locations and opened them as Target stores in 2013.
It was Target’s first attempt at international expansion, and it showed. Poorly planned locations, unstocked shelves, and lackluster products left Canuck shoppers feeling lukewarm toward the big, red bullseye.
The fallout: Target lost billions of dollars on the failed expansion and closed all 133 of its stores in the Great White North after only two years in business, resulting in the Canadian subsidiary filing for bankruptcy in early 2015.
The takeaway: As the old saying goes, if something’s not worth doing right, it’s not worth doing. Target Canada lacked commitment in its northern expansion, a misstep that cost the company two billion dollars.
4. Avoidance of Accountability
Houston-based Enron became one of the biggest energy companies in the world after helping to deregulate utilities in the 1990s.
As Enron grew, its leaders strayed from the path of financial transparency and became caught up on producing favorable statements for shareholders and investors. The leadership team fostered a culture of deceptive accounting and obfuscatory reporting to hide billions of dollars of debt due to business failures.
In addition to the internal subterfuge, Enron also pressured outside accounting firm Arthur Andersen to ignore the glaring transgressions in its auditing.
The fallout: In late November of 2001, with about $23 billion (more than the GDP of Estonia) in liabilities from debt and guaranteed loans, Enron filed for the biggest bankruptcy in American history at the time. The company’s shares, which crested at more than $90 in the mid-2000s, had plummeted to less than 70 cents per share. Arthur Andersen was put out of business after its involvement in the scandal, leaving 85,000 employees without jobs.
The takeaway: Without clear, realistic organizational goals, a corporate environment becomes ripe for pockets of power and excessive bureaucracy. At Enron, a gaping lack of accountability allowed a rogue team of leaders to draw the corporation into one of the most spectacular business collapses in American history and the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
5. Inattention to Results
Lululemon built a strong brand in the early 2000s, embracing the burgeoning yoga movement to become the de facto official apparel provider of yoga practitioners.
But in practice, Lululemon did not exercise yoga’s values of inner peace, coexistence, and enlightenment. This discord was on display as Lululemon founder Chip Wilson blamed issues with his company’s threadbare yoga pants on the body shape of the women wearing them.
Lululemon also ran afoul of its target customer base when Wilson suggested that birth control pills and divorces started a chain reaction which ultimately led to the success of his company.
The fallout: Wilson stepped down as chairman in 2013 after public outcry. He remains Lululemon’s largest shareholder even after leaving the company. In 2016, he criticized the company for losing its way and lacking women on its management team.
The takeaway: By neglecting to pay attention to its core demographic, Lululemon faced one PR disaster after another during the past decade. Rather than focusing on results and delivering quality products to its customers, the company has become an explosive organization plagued by controversy.
“The Function of Leadership is to Produce More Leaders…”
Have you seen any of these dysfunctions at play in the real world? Share your thoughts in the comments and check out these other articles on The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team:
How do you avoid these common team dysfunctions? What are some examples that I didn’t think of to include here? Let me know in the comments below!
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