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Dysfunctions of a Business Intelligence Team: Lack of Commitment

Originally published October 14, 2010

Note from Maureen Clarry: This is the fourth article in the series Dysfunctions of a Business Intelligence Team. In July, I wrote an overview of the five dysfunctions. In August, James Wood looked more deeply at the first dysfunction – the lack of trust. When trust is not present on a team, members do not feel comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas, leading to the second dysfunction – the fear of conflict. The September article, written by Lorna Rickard, explored how the fear of conflict manifests itself within teams and offered four tools to mitigate this common dysfunction. This month’s article, written by David Green and Ginger Ward-Green, focuses on lack of commitment, the third dysfunction from Patrick Lencioni’s model.

ACME Transportation, Take One

It was the monthly managers’ meeting at ACME Transportation. In attendance were the CIO, Chuck, and his team leads…John, Phil, and Marsha, database manager Joe, and CFO Carrie.

Chuck welcomed everyone to the meeting and opened by asking about the plans to expand analytics into the additional departments – the first item on their agenda. He recalled that they needed some more hardware, a few more staff members, and a plan to get some new sources integrated.

Carrie was very excited about the potential revenues and profit that could be generated as a result of the analytics and had allocated some seed money to cover the expansion costs. “I have $500,000 set aside for this. When do we start spending, and when can we expect to see our first revenues coming in?”

Phil thought they had agreed to hold off on the expansion for a quarter. “Didn’t we agree to wait until the vacation period is over? It doesn’t make any sense to push for overtime when we don’t have the staff available!”

Marsha, who was skeptical about the scheme in the first place (but had not expressed her reservations), said, “I don’t really remember the discussion. Who voted in favor of the expansion? I don’t think I would have. I’d like to know where everyone stands on this.”

Joe said he thought there might be some licensing issues, but had been too busy writing the new data standards, policies, and procedures to look into it. “I’ll get right on it as soon as the meeting is over.”

John said he’s been thinking about the project, but didn’t know it would be on the agenda so left his notes back home.

Chuck was looking a bit red in the face at this point… “Let me find my notes….ah, here we are… we agreed that by this meeting we’d have a plan in place to expand and we’d all have completed our homework so we would be ready to implement. Clearly, we agreed to this and nobody is prepared. This isn’t good enough. When we say we’re going to do something, we need to do it. Our bonuses are affected by our performance, and it’s not going to be a good year without the extra revenue. I’m annoyed with all of you. This happens all the time.”

Does this happen in your company? Does any of this seem familiar to you? Do these situations occur more often than not? Welcome to the third dysfunction – "Lack of Commitment.”

One of the benefits of writing is that it invites thinking about real life experiences of working with teams. In this article, our plan is to explore what we’ve observed as common issues that lead to lack of commitment within teams, and offer practical ideas for addressing the problems that are created by this dysfunction.

Knowing that “commitment” can mean different things to different people, let’s use Lencioni’s frame of reference as our starting point.

“Teams that commit to decisions and standards do so because they know how to embrace two separate but related concepts: buy-in and clarity. Clarity requires that teams avoid assumptions and ambiguity, and that they end discussions with a clear understanding about what they’ve decided upon. Buy-in does not require consensus. Members of great teams learn to disagree with one another and still commit to a decision.”

This tracks with what we have experienced with teams working to improve their overall health and effectiveness. Causes of lack of commitment include the following:
  • Team members end up being unclear about what decisions have been made. People have varying interpretations of what was discussed and/or decided and do not make time to sort out the differences.
  • Decisions are made and then undermined by people who don’t agree with the decision, but choose not to speak up at the time. Sometimes we’ve seen this happen because of a lack of confidence and competence on the part of individuals. Another variation on this problem occurs when team members are too busy with their “day jobs” to take on additional tasks, but are afraid or reluctant to admit this to the “Tops.”
  • Other times, the decisions end up being undermined by people who appear to be putting their functional responsibilities ahead of the overall good of the organization. This becomes an even greater problem when team members observe this happening, but are reluctant to speak openly about their concern with their colleagues engaged in what looks like taking care of their own interests first.
  • People have had second thoughts about the decision that’s been made, or new information has come up that has made people have a change of heart. Depending on people’s comfort level with reopening the discussion that led to the decision that was made, this may lead to meaningful dialogue and strengthened commitment to moving forward. Conversely, when team members remain quiet with their discomfort and choose to not openly disclose their reservations, the odds of ensuring commitment to a course of action are quite low.
  • Teams have not developed an action plan to implement the decisions made. The “what, who and by when” is not documented and no follow-up process is clarified and put in place.
Practical ideas we have seen teams implement to make progress with these issues include the following:
  • Publish and distribute clear agendas ahead of scheduled meetings, showing what will be covered. This simple principle is respectful of individuals who function best with time to internally process their thoughts and feelings before going public with their ideas. Doing this also gives everyone involved time to prepare for a constructive dialogue.
  • Be clear about which decisions are being made by whom (we recommend reading the Harvard Business Review article entitled “Who Has the D”). Clarify which decisions are made by the team and which by individual team members. Also, decide who needs to have input and who will do the work. Keep it simple.
  • Document decisions that have been made. Before the meeting ends, read them out loud to ensure clarity and understanding for all. Writing and distributing clear notes shortly after the meeting is a good way to do this as well.
  • Track ongoing next steps using an action register that records each key action. Include when the action step will be started, what will be done, who is doing the work, and the completion date. Track all actions regularly…weekly at a minimum.
  • Develop “Operating Guidelines” for the team. This defines expectations for what “good team behavior” looks like and can be used to hold one another accountable.
  • Incorporate regular “process checks” as part of every meeting. Make it a part of the team culture to talk openly together on how the team is doing against the Operating Guidelines.
  • Build a culture where it’s okay to bring up alternate viewpoints and to develop skills in having “difficult conversations.” Bringing up uncomfortable things regularly reduces the risk of pressure building up and having destructive “explosions.”
  • Together, create goals that are critical to supporting the larger organization (more important than individual department goals), and have them cascade down to individual managers. Track the overall goals and report progress and status at each meeting. Use the progress data to adjust the actions as necessary.
In closing, we reinforce the value and importance of coaching individuals and teams to talk openly, respectfully, and candidly about the issues impacting team effectiveness and overall business success. For many, having a “difficult conversation” is awkward, uncomfortable, and anticipated with about as much enthusiasm as a root canal! Working with people issues is hard, and the tendency is to put tasks ahead of relationships. Building commitment works best after a foundation of trust has been built and people can manage conflict constructively. Expect to slip backward from time to time. Some personality types find it harder than others to confront team members and the dynamics generally change when new staff members come on board.

Developing an ongoing relationship with a skilled facilitator/consultant – who is trusted to coach and do a quarterly check-in with the team on what’s working well and what needs more work – can keep the team (and the organization) headed in a positive, action-oriented direction. With attention to these concepts, expect changes to occur, as in the case of. . .

ACME Transportation Revisited

Four years later at a monthly manager’s meeting, Chuck welcomed everyone to the meeting, asked if everyone had read the minutes from the last meeting and the action register, and thanked Carrie and Phil for adding two items to the agenda – which had been sent out two days before the meeting. The minutes were approved. During the action register review, Joe acknowledged that he had not hired the ten new staff he was supposed to hire for their latest expansion. “I sent out an email two weeks ago when I knew I would miss the target. I will have seven people on board by the deadline and the other three will come on two weeks later.”

Phil said, “That was great to get a heads-up. I was able to delay the software licensing and some of the new clients weren’t quite ready for us anyway.”

John said, “I like it that we don’t blindside each other anymore. We do what we say and if we can’t, we let each other know. This is a great team to work in.”

Carrie was also appreciative of the changes. “We work well together as a team now, and there are few surprises. This makes ACME a better place to work, and more profitable. Looking back, however, this hasn’t been an easy process for us. We’ve kind of gone around in circles with this team stuff, with each loop making us better and hopefully stronger. We’d have a plan, implement it, check how we’re doing, and find we needed to make more changes. Some of us find it very hard to confront others over behavioral stuff, even though we agreed we’d do it. And when new managers come on board, we always take a step backward. It’s not easy for me – I try to address issues when they are still small, but I need to keep working at it. At the end of each year, however, when we have our team celebration and get our bonuses, it always seems worth the effort!”


Lencioni, Patrick (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Silberman, Mel (2001). The Consultant's Tool Kit: High Impact Questionnaires, Activities, and How-to Guides for Diagnosing and Solving Client Problems. New York: McGraw-Hill.

  • David GreenDavid Green
    David Green is an organizational development consultant and coach in CONNECT's Knowledge Network. David and Ginger Ward-Green are co-owners of the Ward Green Group, in Bangor, ME, and specialize in helping organizations "run like clockwork" by assessing strengths and areas for development, moving in new directions, growing what's strong, and rebuilding what's weak or broken. They regularly use the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team" assessment and methodology in their work. David has a background in engineering, IT, organizational development, and business process re-engineering and has worked in the UK, Canada, and the USA.
  • Ginger Ward-GreenGinger Ward-Green
    Ginger Ward-Green is an organizational development consultant and coach in CONNECT's Knowledge Network. Ginger and David Ward are co-owners of the Ward Green Group, in Bangor, ME, and specialize in helping organizations "run like clockwork" by assessing strengths and areas for development, moving in new directions, growing what's strong, and rebuilding what's weak or broken. They regularly use the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team" assessment and methodology in their work. Ginger is a skilled facilitator, coach, and trainer who has worked with organizations of all sizes in the USA and Canada.



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