• Rolf Graf

The five dysfunctions of a team program in Chiang Mai

Updated: Aug 12, 2018

Beunite was asked by AIPP Chiang Mai to conduct a three-day team building and training work shop at Away Suan Sawan Resort in Chiang Mai from 17th to 19th November 2014. The need for team work development was pointed out in the management and institutional development report under the section “weaknesses”:

  • Lack of systematic and targeted staff development and management

  • Frequent staff turnover

  • Team work affected by diverse cultures and expectation

The study was conducted by the development association. Based on this study, and in collaboration with Beunite, the following objectives were outlined:

  • To foster stronger inter-personal relationship and cohesiveness in the Secretariat

  • To ignite the spirit of achievement to achieve performance excellence.

  • To develop good working relationships between all members.

  • To reinforce the commitment to the goals and objectives of AIPP

  • To help develop all elements of team work including creativity, communication, trust, problem solving.

  • To help develop a high-performance team by encouraging shared commitment to common purpose, core values, communication norms, defined roles and responsibilities and a culture of mutual respect, accountability and responsibility.

The work shop was conducted at Away Suan Sawan Chiang Mai. Away Suan Sawan , is a conference and team-building resort situated in the tranquil Mae Rim Valley, a 30 minute drive from Chiang Mai International Airport. Away Suan Sawan consists of 47 rooms and villas and three conference facilities; the Orchid Room, the Bougainvillea Room and the Leelawadee Room.

  • The Orchid Room, 71 SM in size, is situated above the swimming pool and has a lovely view to the mountains.

  • The Bougainvillea room 310 SM in size, is situated next to the restaurant and a suitable access to the restaurant and the garden. Leelawadee Room, 53 SM in size, is adjoining the Bougainvillea Room with access to the restaurant and garden.

One day prior to the start of the training, the Beunite head facilitator inspected Bougainvillea and Leelawadee Rooms. He was informed by the resort that Leelawadee room was booked by the client. The surcharge for using the larger room (Leelawadee) was 5000 Baht. Beunite decided that Bougainvillea room was suitable for the work shop. Bougainvillea was large enough for 18 people on U-shape with a small break out sofa area near the entrance.

The second break-out room was in fact an outdoor Sala. Upon request, the resort management gave permission to use Bougainvillea room for some activities on day one complimentary. There was on outdoor activity in front of the conference facilities and one lawn further down the road towards the entrance. Beunite had permission to use all the outdoor lawns for team building activities complimentary.

Day 1

Dysfunction 1 – Absence of trust

Delegates arrived between nine and nine-thirty in the morning and the work shop started at half past ten, about thirty minutes behind schedule. The first topic was Lencioni’s Absence of Trust including four activities split into two categories.

  1. Intimate physical team building exercises that includes touch

  2. Intimate mental team building exercises that include revealing personal information and get to know each other

The first and second activity Trust fall and Eye contact fall under the category A and the third and fourth activity Get to know your colleagues quiz and Personal Histories Exercise fall under the category B.

“Trust Fall” was conducted on the activity lawn, just outside the meeting room. Trust Fall is a warm-up and ice-breaker activity and ideal for introducing Lencioni’s dysfunction 1, absence of trust. Delegates standing in groups of three, and one person deliberately allows themselves to fall, relying on the other members of the group to catch the person.

Delegates were taking turns and clearly enjoying themselves in the process of catching and falling. Back in the conference room delegates were asked how they were feeling and lively participated in the debate. The discussion moved on to the psychology of catching and falling to neuroscience of building trust.

After a 20-minutes discussion, Beunite facilitators introduced themselves and asked the students to do the same. Eighteen delegates from AIPP Chiang Mai participated in the work-shop. Delegates were from five different countries; Thailand, Philippines, Burma, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The program continued with Eye-Contact. In eye contact, delegates stand in pairs facing each other and staring into each other’s eye for 90 seconds. Eye contact is a very intimate activity illustrating the importance of eye contact.

Some members were remarkably uneasy with such close personal contact. This was expressed by laughing, giggling, hand fidgeting, moving from one foot to the other, playing with one’s hair or simply not withholding the partner’s stare.

This exercise is intentionally designed to put delegates in a position of vulnerability and for students to learn to embrace vulnerability to strengthen trust within the team. In the debriefing, the teacher recapped the importance of vulnerability-based trust as a foundation of team work.

The facilitator split the group into two teams and each team was asked to reflect about trust within their organization. At the end of the three minutes each team was asked to write their Trust score on the flip chart between 1 (low trust) and 5 (high trust). Further, the five dysfunctions assessment results were published on the screen.

  • A score of 3.75 and above is considered high. The team has created an environment where vulnerability and openness are the norm.

  • A score of 3.25 – 3.74 is considered medium. The team may need to get more comfortable being vulnerable and open with one another about individual strengths and weaknesses, mistakes and needs for help.

  • A score of 3.24 and below is considered low. The team lacks necessary levels of openness and vulnerability about individual strengths and weaknesses, mistakes and needs for help.

Students agreed that team member lacked trust in each other and that more work needed to be done. An important foundation of trust was laid in the Get to know your student’s quiz. The quiz consisted of three simple questions to be answered by each one about themselves and about all other delegates in the team. The questions were:

  • Where (which country / city) did you spend most of your childhood in?

  • How many siblings you have?

  • What’s your favorite hobby?

Maximum score was 54 and students scored between (censored for privacy reasons) and (censored for privacy reasons). When asked if delegates were surprised about the low score and what this meant they answered in unison yes, they were indeed surprised not really understanding what it meant.

Team building professionals are not surprised at such a low score. It is common that colleagues work for years in the same department (and sometimes at the next desk) yet do not have much idea about each other’s private lives. They are not aware about how little they know about each other.

In the debriefing, Beunite facilitator asked whether delegates were spending time on a private basis, whether they did some frequent socializing or networking outside of work. The answer was yes, AIPP organized a frequent luncheon for all team members to join and have lunch together, yet some delegates seem not to make use of this opportunity often enough (in an exercise on day two some delegates received feed-back and were encouraged to join this occasion more frequently).

The last trust-enhancing activity was Personal Histories exercise. This exercise is designed to become more comfortable with vulnerability within the team and to open up to colleagues.

Students were asked to think 10 minutes about one personal story of their choice that they were going to tell the rest of the team. The story was between 30 seconds and 1 minute long and should be about their childhood, family and relationship with a spouse, friend or about business.

The story should include any acts that caused fear, shame or embarrassments and that are slightly uncomfortable to reveal. The stories revealed by the students were truly jaw-dropping. Some were about heartbreak, some about growing up in extreme poverty, some about being bullied in school. Some were scary, some funny and some extremely painful. Two delegates broke down in tears in the process of telling their stories.

The 40-minutes activity turned into one and a half hours with a rejuvenating effect. Students listened actively and asked questions and the level empathy among colleagues was rising. The exercise gained momentum and the team created bonds of mature proportions. What seemed to be loose and individual players have turned into a cohesive team in a matter of two hours.

This exercise is clearly designed for students to raise awareness that everybody is imperfect and most of us have some skeletons in the closet. Past experiences shape the way we are today. Past experiences shape our actions, our thoughts and our behaviors.

In the debriefing, Beunite facilitators advised to treat the newly acquired knowledge with highest respect and care. It only needs one person to use the information for their personal gain to destroy trust within the team that was built and maintained over a long period of time. The last message was never to stop socializing, bonding and being vulnerable in the team. Trust building is a long and sometimes painful yet necessary process.

Dysfunction 2 – Fear of Conflict

The topic of Fear of Conflict was introduced by power point. The students were encouraged to elicit characteristics of teams that fear conflicts and characteristics of teams that engage in open conflict. Two examples of this:

  • Teams that fear conflict have boring meetings

  • Teams that engage in open conflict discuss controversial topics that are critical for team success.

The key message was that teams become dysfunctional when they are unable to productively deal with conflict. All meaningful relationships require productive conflict for them to grow. Healthy conflict occurs when people talk about the issue at hand avoiding personal attacks, looking for the best solution for the team.

Teams tend to avoid conflict often replacing it with an artificial harmony. In sub-teams, students were again asked to write their Conflict score on the flip chart and present it to the rest of the team.

  • Average score of 3.75 and above is considered high. The team is comfortable engaging in unfiltered discussion around important topics.

  • Average score of 3.25-374. Is considered medium. The team may need to learn to engage in more unfiltered discussion around key issues.

  • Average score of 3.24 and below is considered low. The team is not comfortable engaging in unfiltered discussion around important topics.

On power point, Beunite facilitator a graph with the breaking point between conflict of ideas and personal conflicts and asked the students to explain the chart. One student explained the chart thoroughly and explained how conflicts of ideas may lead to personal conflicts.

Trust is the foundation of great teams and it’s the building blocks of trust that makes team conflict possible. The conflict case study of Omilia Co. Ltd. a fictional company was perfect to illustrate this.

Omilia Co. Ltd. consist of 6 team members, Martin (CEO), Eric (Head of Finance), Jane (HR & Marketing), Jenifer (Trainee), Lee (Admin & Secretary) and Mira (Part time). The case study meeting went like this: Martin, the CEO and chairman is leading the meeting. Jane the head of Marketing was presented her new marketing plan and asked to allocate more money to her department. She apparently did a long and thorough talk. She suggested to move budget from the staff outing. The other employees were quiet in the meeting and some were talking to each other silently. But they appeared unhappy. They didn’t participate fully in the meeting and they didn’t engage in open conflicts of ideas. The meeting was closed yet the decision not clear.

Students were asked to reflect upon the meeting and figure out what went wrong. They were encouraged to give suggestions of how to run the meeting in a better way and how to bring conflict to the open.

Further, students slipped into the roles of Martin, Jane & Co. and were instructed to plan their meeting, this time as a real act and with more open ideological conflict. Students did a good job, they engaged each other in open conflict yet on a superficial level and both teams came up with a compromise. The underlying conflict was not bought to the open entirely.

It would have been interesting to find out whether Jane was avoiding socializing with the rest of the team and the reasons behind her avoidance. Which unfortunately, none of the students did.

Yet, a compromise can sometimes be the right solution to a problem, unfortunately often it isn’t. So, the facilitator asked the students to reflect more deeply about the subject and think whether the compromise is the best solution. And what would happen if there wasn’t a compromise, if the decision would go clearly against somebody’s will. If they believed the decision was wrong. Would they still buy-into the decision, would they still wholeheartedly carry out the decision, would the team be more important than the individual ego?

Some questions were left unanswered, yet the message was delivered.

Dysfunction 3 – Lack of commitment

After some hours in the conference room, the program continued outdoors. Group Juggle, a light and lively outdoor activity was just perfect. Students were asked to stand in a circle. Their objective was to pass a tennis ball around the circle by following two important rules.

  • Never pass to the person standing next to you

  • Never pass it to the same person twice before returning to the starting point.

After having built a considerable degree of trust in the previous exercises and after having overcome a fear of conflict, discussion was livelier and more active than expected. Students discussed different strategies, then practiced and within 15 minutes accomplished their task. Back in the meeting room I asked what kind of mistakes happened in the process of achieving their task. Delegates elicited:

  1. Lack of skills (couldn’t catch the ball)

  2. Lack of clarity (no plan – threw the ball to the wrong person)

  3. Lack of buy-in (lack of concentration and commitment – didn’t think it was a life and death situation).

Students reflected upon the three types of errors and how they could be avoided. Delegates further were encouraged to pinpoint the one type of mistake that in their opinion were the hardest to overcome in a team environment. Their rating was like this:

  1. Lack of clarity (most difficult to overcome)

  2. Lack of skills (second most difficult to overcome)

  3. Lack of buy-in (easiest to overcome).

While all three types of mistakes were difficult to avoid, in a team environment its most likely lack of buy-in (and probably second most difficult would be lack of clarity).