Thoughts from the Field - Issue #25 - Jedi Wisdom for Teams
By Russ Sabia
February 2016

With all of the recent fanfare surrounding the release of "Star Wars, The Force Awakens," I thought it might be interesting to channel some of Yoda's Jedi wisdom to our approach to teamwork, specifically the model found in Patrick Lencioni's bookThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In my ten years consulting to leadership teams, one thing that has become very clear to me is the importance of the role of the leader to the success of a team. Yoda's skill as a teacher, mentor, truth teller and leader impressed me as I think about the teams that I work with. Here are five of Yoda's teachings as they relate to some of the common issues we encounter with our client teams.

1."In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way."

Absence of Trust - It is easy to get into a dark place with other team members and Yoda reminds us that we can build and accelerate trust on a team by purposefully learning and understanding more about each other. The more we deliberately work to get to know each other, the better we can avoid the Fundamental Attribution Error: making erroneous assumptions about other's motives and intent, which can lead us down unproductive paths.

2."Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."

Fear of Conflict - When people fear conflict, they avoid addressing important issues that need to be resolved. This begins the path to the dark side, because while avoiding the conflict directly may feel easier in the moment, it usually ends up going underground and becoming political and personal through shadowy backchannels. Unresolved conflict festers and eventually erodes the foundation of trust on a team. Strong teams learn to argue honestly and constructively together about important issues so they can quickly solve problems, make better decisions, and minimize the suffering of politics.

3. "To be a Jedi is to face the truth and choose. Give off light or darkness...be a candle or the night."

Lack of Commitment - Teams that lack clarity and buy-in create confusion and ambiguity in their organizations. They are comprised of members that agree to decisions during meetings and do not support or act on them outside of the room.Committed teams face the truth and drive to closure around direction and priorities so that they can move forward without hesitation - they disagree and commit. Team members unequivocally support decisions outside of meetings even if they initially disagreed. Teams that are clear and committed are more effective and aligned, and light the way for the organization.

4. "If you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny and consume you it will."

Avoidance of Accountability - Once a team commits to decisions, the team must be mutually accountable for making them happen. Too often when a team member violates an agreement, a deadline, or exhibits other unproductive behaviors, fellow team members avoid addressing it, which sets the team down a dark path. Teams must learn to "enter the danger" with each other when breakdowns occur and have the difficult discussions that peer-to-peer accountability requires.Yoda might remind us that both the unhealthy and healthy have breakdowns. The measure of team health is how quickly the team addresses and resolves breakdowns. Healthy teams address them quickly while unhealthy teams avoid them and allow the issues to fester and consume the team with discord and distrust.

5. "Do or not do. There is no try."

Inattention to Results - In one of Yoda's more memorable lines, he reminds his Jedi trainees that to get results, they must commit themselves completely to something. Creating a cohesive team that achieves extraordinary results requires that the leader fully commit him/herself to mastering the few simple disciplines listed above. Focusing on results means never letting individual or functional agendas supersede the team's collective goals, and focusing always on clear team objectives.

While creating a team is simple in concept, it requires a leader to lead the way and to consistently do the hard work necessary to build cohesiveness. As you plot your course for the upcoming year, our commitment is to be here to help you navigate away from the temptations of the dark side even when you might not want to. As the Jedi master said: "You think Yoda stops teaching just because his student does not want to hear? A teacher Yoda is."

May the Force be with you.

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