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  • Jacob Busani

The Layers of Teamwork

Have you ever wondered how some work groups exhibit effective teamwork and other teams remain dysfunctional for the life of the team? We’ve all been there. Or maybe we are there now. Managing or working on a team where infighting, a lack of accountability or jockeying for position is the norm. It’s like a dysfunctional family, except worse, because you spend so much more time with your dysfunctional work family — at least 40 hours a week.

This actually is pretty normal in most organizations, and although it isn’t easy, it is completely possible to overcome. Dysfunctional behavior on a team has very identifiable roots and with a little developed awareness, logic and communication, even the most disharmonious, ego rampant teams can row together in the boat of progress. Effective teamwork is both profoundly simple and difficult at the same time and the success of a particular team is also tied in closely with the culture of their organization. Some organizational cultures support teamwork; others don’t.

This is why so many teams struggle to get the relationships, the interaction, and the task execution right.

Teams have basic needs that must be acknowledged and fulfilled if you expect your teams to experience their greatest success. No team will succeed if these basics do not exist. But are there really layers of teamwork?

You would think the answer would be simple since we all know what teamwork is and most professionals know the value of teamwork. Or do we?

How do you get your team members to respect each other?How do you get your team members working together better?How do you get your team members all heading in the same direction?

This particular model is presented as a pyramid because each layer is dependent on the one below it to deliver the final point of building teams, which is a result. Teams have a common language and a model they can use to talk about: problems, differences, expectations, and standards. In other words, the team members are all on the same page about what a healthy team looks like and what they should want to look like.


In order to build a foundation of trust, we have to be transparent and honest with one another. This requires team members: to be vulnerable with one another, admit mistakes, and ask for help when needed.

In building trust, teams create a safe place to talk about some very important interpersonal differences. Through the process of building trust, teams move from judging to valuing. The natural instinct we have to people with differences is to judge them. The trust layer starts with understanding why other people are the way they are. This is followed by learning to: respect those differences, appreciate them, and then valuing the differences (including diversity of backgrounds and skills).

Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level. They are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears and behaviors. True trust causes real change on a team. True trust means people giving each other the benefit of the doubt, it means team members can admit mistakes, forgive, and take chances. This type of trust is essential if you want a team that gets results!


Some people try to avoid conflict because it is emotional and at times physically gut-wrenching. Whenever you bring people together, with different personalities, different ages, genders, etc. — these is going to be conflict!

Conflict on teams does not have to be all negative. Teams engage in healthy conflict around ideas. With healthy conflict, team members have the freedom to disagree with each other in unfiltered, passionate, and constructive debate about ideas instead of veiled discussions and guarded threats.


Lots of team-building programs emphasis consensus in decision making. Consensus is good as it builds commitment, but it is not always possible and certainly not a fast process. It’s important to understand that commitment does not equal consensus…people can disagree but, having had healthy conflict, will have had the opportunity to share their opinions. Cohesive teams understand that they must be able to commit even when the outcome is uncertain and not everyone initially agrees. With this understanding, all team members are more willing to commit to the team’s decisions.

Working through commitment requires not only the ability to make wise and discerning results focused decisions. It requires setting up front, team norms or standards of behavior. These norms can be set around “ how we communicate”, meeting management, protocol for reaching out to team members that report to another leader and more. They will allow us to set a foundation for “ how we do things around here “, eliminating conflict and confusion later on.


We want to define accountability as peer-to-peer accountability. We are not talking about personal accountability-I do what I say I’m going to do. That is taking personal responsibility for doing your job. We are talking about holding one another accountable, and that can be difficult! It can be hard to tell a team member that you think they are not pulling their weight on a project or to question their approach/process for doing a task. It is just easier to complain to co-workers or the team leader than to follow-up with other team member with team accountability as the goal.

Feedback is a gift to help others grow and so is accountability. If the team’s relationships are strong and team members are vulnerable then they feel able to provide open and honest feedback to each other and are able to hold each other accountable.


When you can achieve accountability, it will make it much easier for the team to focus on collective results. It may seem obvious that teams would be focused on its results. You might be thinking “What else would the team focused?” Remember, you are asking team members to put aside: their egos, personal career development, perceived job status, and individual recognition — in favor of the team’s goals. That is the difference when we say collective results.

Patrick Lencioni says “A functional team must make the collective results of the group more important to each individual than individual members’ goals.” Each group must identify its own measurable score card. You cannot monitor what you cannot measure. The score card is vital in helping team members focus on the goal.

Your team members may be conflicted between their own personal goals and the team’s goals, but if they have real trust, work through healthy conflict, can show commitment to the team’s decisions, and if they are willing and able to hold one another accountable — they will be able to focus on the collective results of the team. IT is the responsibility of the team leader to help the team members understand if they can focus on collective results, the individual results will come along.

When you can tear down walls, build a foundation and synergy, you will benefit not only from collective progress and rewards, but a more enjoyable atmosphere to spend 40+ hours a week.

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