Dysfunctions of a Business Intelligence Team: Inattention to Results Overcoming the Ultimate Dysfunction
Originally published December 20, 2010
This is the sixth, and final, article in the series Five Dysfunctions of a Business Intelligence Team. In July, Maureen Clarry wrote an overview of the Five Dysfunctions. In August, James Wood looked more deeply at the first dysfunction—the absence of trust. In September, I described how fear of conflict manifests itself within teams. In October, David Green and Ginger Ward-Green focused on lack of commitment, the third dysfunction from Patrick Lencioni’s model. Maureen picked up the pen again to look at the fourth dysfunction, the avoidance of accountability. This article will look at the fifth dysfunction—inattention to results.
Figure 1: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Source: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
“I can’t believe Mike got that promotion! The only thing he’s any good at is polishing his own image. This place is so political!” Sound familiar? Inattention to results, the fifth dysfunction, creates an environment where team members put their individual needs (ego, career development, recognition) over the needs of the team. In an environment where team success isn’t clearly delineated, individuals will seek to maximize their individual success, at the cost of the group. This isn’t nefarious; it doesn’t even make Mike a bad person. It’s human. Self-interest and self-preservation are intrinsically a part of each of us. The goal of teamwork is to harness these instincts in the interest of the collective good of the team, the department, the division and, ultimately, the company.
In order to do this, we need to keep results in the forefront of people’s minds. Focusing everyone’s attention on metrics that are critical to team success supports team members in acting with enlightened self-interest, doing what benefits both the team and themselves. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “what gets measured, gets done” or the other side of the coin, “out of sight, out of mind.” These phrases persist because they’re true. A good way to focus attention is to use a visible scoreboard of some kind. A classic analogy is the scoreboard for a football or basketball game. It provides only the most critical information to keep the team focused on one thing—winning. While each player is concerned with his or her individual performance, the game is about getting the “W,” and by taking a quick glance at the scoreboard, all team members can quickly gauge their success in meeting that goal.
Leaders and managers in business intelligence (BI) need to be similarly clear in defining success for their teams. While the overall goal for the company may be profits, or market share, or growth over last year, these may not be relevant measures for your BI initiative. The key is to focus on one or maybe two thematic goals. Patrick Lencioni defines a thematic goal as the overarching priority of a team during a given period of time. The supporting objectives are the components of a thematic goal, which are collectively owned by the team and become part of their scoreboard. The trick is to leave no room for interpretation about what constitutes success. If the goal and supporting objectives are ambiguous or subjective, that leaves room for the individual ego to sneak in. Make the goal easy to grasp and actionable. Relate it closely to what your team does on a daily basis. For example, if the thematic goal was identified as “improve system acceptance by some percentage in 2011,” the supporting objectives might include quantifiable improvements in the following metrics: number of active users of the BI systems; number of reports being accessed by division, by department, by group, per day, per week, per month, etc.; or number of new reports being developed by day, week, month, etc.; or number of data sources being added to the solution.
An exercise that enables team members to contribute to the creation of the goal(s) is to brainstorm a list of possible goals. The question is: What is the overarching priority of this team – if we do nothing else between now and the end of the year, what should that be? You’re not trying to quantify them at this point; you’re just looking for possible goals. Once you have a list of possible goals, look to see if some can be combined or eliminated. Try to narrow the list to no more than five to seven possibilities. Discuss the merits of each and how often they should be measured. Maybe some should be measured monthly while others could be quarterly. You want to track results in a way that gives you leeway to detect problems and take corrective action. From this list of five to seven possible goals, the group may be able to agree on its overarching priority. If not, the manager should make the final decision based on all the information discussed. Once the group has its thematic goal, all members can assist in identifying the specific metrics that will be tracked on the scoreboard. Giving the team input on the development of these measurements is critical if they are to gain the courage to hold each other accountable (dysfunction 4). Plan to spend one to two hours on this exercise.
Once the scoreboard is created, it will be important to make it visible. This can be as simple as a diagram printed on poster board and hung in the area. Be disciplined about reviewing your scores in detail at meetings. Take the time to drill down and find out why they are or aren’t being met and plan accordingly. Use the measurements to help make collective decisions on a daily basis. If you manage a BI team, your job is to develop a strong team that achieves results. This scoreboard, combined with your commitment to results-based rewards, will be an indispensable tool to help you do that. If you work on a BI team, the scoreboard provides clear direction about what it takes to be successful.
Again, this isn’t about measuring everything—it’s about keeping people focused on what matters most for collective success. Without this, people’s focus will inevitably shift to their individual career advancement, their compensation, their recognition, etc. This can happen within a team and between teams. One of the most destructive, and common, forces within a company is siloing—managers and leaders more focused on optimizing their own area than on what serves the enterprise as a whole. Again, it is natural for managers to place a higher priority on the team they lead than the broader team they’re a member of. After all, managers are hired to optimize their area. Often they’ve selected some or all of their team members, they spend more time with them, and they feel responsible for them. If we let this natural tendency rule the day, however, managers will begin to compete with one another and ultimately weaken the overall effectiveness of the organization. And, employees want their managers to be strong team members on the broader team. They know that they ultimately will pay the price if their manager doesn’t get along with other managers in the department because they will now have the added burden of trying to navigate the resulting organizational politics on their own. It’s easy to see why it’s important that a scoreboard be present at each level of the BI initiative.
Lencioni identifies the willingness of management teams to go for the collective good as one of the two or three things that separate good teams from bad. Even if you’ve had some measure of success in overcoming the other four dysfunctions (absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, and avoidance of accountability), without a focus on collective results, self interest will reign and it won’t be long before trust evaporates and the other dysfunctions inevitably return. This is why Lencioni labels this dysfunction the ultimate dysfunction.
All of the five dysfunctions come together to form an interrelated model. While no team completely conquers all of the dysfunctions, Lencioni’s books provide a road map for building robust teams. He outlines how truly cohesive teams behave by turning each of the five dysfunctions to its positive orientation:
Lencioni, Patrick (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lencioni, Patrick (2005). Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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