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Functional Teams

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Functional teams work consistently towards outcomes and improved performance, whereas when you are in a low-functioning team it can sometimes feel like a war of attrition – which inevitably ends with the leader resorting to pulling rank to get stuff done.

Whilst the result might be compliance on behalf of the team member, it often doesn’t feel good and can leave a bad atmosphere in the team.

Further, its sets up both parties for a similar experience next time as they come to the table forewarned and forearmed and the pattern repeats.

Can you think of an example where you have experienced this, either as the leader or as the team member? Or have you observed this in the way that others are interacting?

How does it make you feel?

It is likely we all fall into this trap from time to time. I know that I recognise it in myself sometimes and I have to catch myself. You might not be surprised to learn that this is a really common problem in successful and busy organisations.

Here’s a typical scenario, taken from a real-life situation. There is a Manager, I’ll call her Jules and one of her team members, Lily.  They were in the final preparations for an in-house event. Jules’ phone rang – it was the tech team. The venue representative was ‘being difficult’, could she come immediately. Under pressure, Jules said to Lily “When you have them all in the room, I want you to greet them by making an announcement. Tell them where to put their bags and tell them to turn off their phones. Oh, and make sure they are respectful of the speakers and listen!”

Lily immediately felt uncomfortable. It was minutes before the audience was to arrive. She had been expecting to register them, give them their badges and let them into the auditorium at 10am. She was not used to speaking to a group and she really didn’t want to do it. Jules picked up on her reluctance to do this, but she really didn’t have time for this. She said “Just do what I ask please.” And left to sort out the issue with the venue.

Lily was now anxious and annoyed with Jules. As people came in, Lily tried to be warm and friendly, she felt awkward giving the message about being respectful of the speakers, so just mentioned it to them individually as they arrived. She could see it wasn’t going down well. After the reaction of the first tranche of delegates, she stopped mentioning it.

At the interval, a few complained to Jules about Lily and asked what could possibly have made her think they wouldn’t be respectful. There were also mutterings over coffee that they were being treated like kids.

Jules was really cross. She found Lily back stage and said, “What did you say?! You’ve managed to upset half the room, Lily.”

I will leave the story there, but you get the point and where this story might lead.

Let’s circle back to the beginning of this EPIC Insight. What is the most important differentiator between functioning and non-functioning teams?


In this case, Jules was under pressure. There was pressure of time, pressure of demands from different people. Pressure of expectations. In an attempt at brevity, Jules had fired off some instructions to Lily that didn’t make clear sense. Lily felt obliged, yet very uncomfortable. Consequently, the message was poorly delivered and badly received.

Pre-framing is a powerful tool. In this case, Jules might have said this:

“I am short on time, as I have to meet with the tech team. We have two important elements that I would like you to take ownership of so that we can maximise the success of this seminar. Firstly, we need to make it really easy for people get out and home at the end of the event, so to achieve that, can you find a way to store their bags for quick and easy access? Also, during the event, there will be some important messages throughout the speeches that they will need to remember over the next Qtr. Can you let them know? They might find it really useful to have a notebook and pen at the ready.”

When we pre-frame, we are giving the other person the heads up as to where we are going. The outcome we want to achieve or the goal we wish to reach.

Using pre-framing, Jules enables Lily to be honest and helpful to the audience and achieve the desired outcomes.


Practice getting into the habit of pre-framing. As you can see by Jules’ example, it often takes no longer – but makes a significant difference to the team’s ability to perform.


How Do I Get My Team To Step Up?

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“In my experience, it doesn’t help to go delving too deeply into the problem…”

(To receive this content in video format, click the link above).

It is not unusual for a leader to express their frustration at their team or a member of their team for not stepping up and taking responsibility.

There may be several reasons for their reluctance to step forward and really take ownership and it may be that you will never really know why.

In my experience, it doesn’t help to go delving too deeply into the problem. You can analyse and rationalise as much as you like, but the problem will remain and your frustrations will grow along with their resistance to step up.

Imagine a new Manager, Rory. One of his team members is Alan. Alan appears to be working very hard. He is often the last to leave. But he doesn’t communicate, so Rory never really knows what Alan is doing and what his workload is really like. In the past, Rory has found Alan to be quite defensive when he has asked about how he is spending his time. Not one for confrontation, Rory has backed off and has let him get on with it.

Have you recognise this sort of dynamic?

Next time you notice that a team member is resisting you, maybe try this exercise before you meet:

Take a pen and paper, and write down their name in the centre, then write down whatever words come to you that sum up how you would like the ideal relationship to be with that person. See below:


Once you have completed the exercise, you will find you have much better clarity of what you want and why you want it.

In Rory’s case, because he has something of a vision for how they might best work together, he can now focus on ‘the future relationship’ rather than ‘Alan’s failings’.

This simple exercise moves attention away from the frustrations and the problems Rory is experiencing with Alan, allowing space for him to create a new relationship, together with clear boundaries about the expectations he has.

In addition, Rory has opened up the communication channel between himself and Alan.

It’s time to have that chat!

To find out more about EPiC Leadership, click here to arrange a conversation with one of our Consultants.

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