Why Groups Fail and Teams Succeed

Why do teams succeed where groups fail? A group is a collection of people while a team is a collection of people aligned around a shared cause, purpose or conviction.

Building an effective team of people is not simply everyone agreeing on a common purpose or vision, or even on having everyone approve the specific plan to accomplish a shared purpose or vision. The problem is that people are people, each one driven by different natural behaviors. Those different behaviors have the potential for great complement – or great conflict. In other words, you need to get underneath the purpose to the underlying behaviors and align there, before the group can execute as a team.

The problem is that each person’s natural behavior is natural to him or her. Our own behavioral style is the lens through which each of us sees the world around us. We become the “standard,” and we try to explain people by how closely they fit or deviate from our “standard.” The same goes for each of the other team members – each person has their own “standard’ against which he or she tries to explain other people. To compound the problem, people often wrongly assign a motive to the behaviors they see in others using their own behavioral style and motives as the standard.

Once you understand the behavioral profile of each of the people who are on the same work team, you can identify where the complements and conflicts are likely to be, and take steps to effectively leverage the areas in which team members complement one another, and work through the areas of potential conflict.

Fortunately there are some terrific tools to help this process along, courtesy of many of the different behavioral systems like Myers-Briggs® and DiSC®. We’ll take a look at a work team beset with a growing level of conflict and frustration and use a DiSC® report called the Team Behavioral Continuum Report. This report covers 32 different observable behaviors possessed by each member of the work team and compares individuals to one another, so that identifying complements and conflicts is a breeze.

Let’s look at a real-life example. Suppose the work team consists of manager Susan and staff members Eleanor, Christine, Scott, Steve, and Jeanne. When these six talented individuals first started working together there were numerous dysfunctions and mis-communications. To identify the cause of the conflicts and how they could be resolved, a DiSC® Team Behavioral Continuum Report was created.

You’ll need to download a free sample team report in order to follow this discussion: (Download here). Please locate page 3 of the DiSC® Team Behavioral Continuum Sample Report.

On the chart on page 3 note the first of 32 different behaviors: ACCEPTS. Think of ACCEPTS as a way of measuring how openly and willingly someone might respond to something they hear or see for the first time.

  • A low accepter (Susan, the manager) is naturally wired to question everything she sees and hears. She is wired to understand the details, so she usually needs to stop and ask questions to understand and process what she is seeing and hearing. Low acceptors often ask questions in a very direct way.
  • A high accepter (such as Eleanor and Christine) hears or sees something and is quite open and accepting of it. High accepters tend to have little need to ask questions as they take what they see and hear at face value.

Knowing the conflicting tendencies of high and low accepters, it is easy to see the potential for conflict on Susan’s team during meetings. Eleanor and Christine volunteer their ideas and Susan launches into a round of 20 questions about each idea.

  • Susan just wants to understand the idea and think it through and the only way she knows how to do this is through direct questions. To Susan, this is the natural way she explores her world.
  • To Christine and Eleanor, it seems like Susan does not like their ideas. In fact, the more directly Susan questions them, the more it seems like she must not value their thinking and contributions. What do they do as a result? Stop volunteering their ideas.
  • As a result of no longer volunteering ideas, Susan now assumes that neither Eleanor nor Christine is interested in the organization’s success since they no speak up like they used to do.
  • Notice how assigning motives comes into play here, and how this type of thinking will almost always lead to escalating conflict?

When the DiSC® Team Behavioral Continuum was shared with Susan and her team, ineffective behaviors were replaced by effective behaviors in order to work together more harmoniously:

  • Susan softened her approach to questioning Christine and Eleanor about their ideas. Where she used to ask a very direct, “What about such and such?” she now asks “That sounds like an excellent idea…can you help me think it through? What about such and such…how does that work?” Susan uses a softer tone of voice to go with more affirming language.
  • Christine and Eleanor recognize that asking questions is as natural to Susan as breathing, so they are not offended by her questions. They recognize Susan is tasked with making sure ideas are vetted before they are implemented. As a result, they don’t hold back ideas and come prepared with more of the details than they used to.

We could similarly look at the other 31 behaviors measured by the DiSC® Team Behavioral Continuum Report and see where potential complement and conflict might suggest different approaches.

Bottom line: proper use of alignment tools like DiSC can improve teamwork and team output, remove potential barriers to communications, and reduce the overall levels of stress in the workplace. As a result, a properly aligned team out-produces a group every time!


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