Is Your Team A Living Game Of Thrones?

This may sound like a silly question but do you know who your team is? The answer is relatively simple if you are an individual contributor but gets rather tricky when you move to leadership role. I can hear you saying “my team are the people who work for me, who I lead”. Wrong. They are not your team, or at least not the primary one. They are their team. They may report to you but ultimately your team is someone else. Most often you would be part of a management team, or in case of special projects or global initiatives you may be part of some virtual team. Essentially, your team is a group of people where you are “one of the guys/girls”, the team where you act as individual contributor and not as a boss.

What’s wrong with a belief that your team are the people working for you?

Aside of the outdated paradigm that people work “for you” rather than “with you” the problem is that when you focus on the team reporting to you it inescapably leads to forming your focus, priorities and loyalties. You get into a habit of protecting your team from external forces (which is sort of fine as long as you do it in moderation), you spend your time with your subordinates rather than with your peers which leads to lack of alignment between different groups and different departments.

Most importantly this focus very often leads to what you can see in the work of George R.R. Martin A Game Of Thrones. Various fiefdoms warring with each other for power, resources, in the eternal struggle to have more land, bigger castle, and no opposition. In the corporate world this means that instead of various teams to be aligned, working for the same purpose, helping each other, and sharing rewards to move the business forward they don’t talk to each other. Or even worse, they actively sabotage each other’s effort to come up as winners. Ultimately, the business suffers and everyone loses.

What changes when you see your peers in management as your team?

So what happens if you change your paradigm and start looking at your peers from other departments as the primary team? What happens when the group of people who form management actually starts acting like a team? Well, it can have profound effects of the well-being of everyone in the “individual department teams” as well as overall success of the company.

I had the fortune to spend big portion of my management career being part of various “virtual teams”. For example, when building a brand new office in the Philippines I would be the only guy on the ground (employee number one, without any direct reports) but being part of a global company I definitely had a team, being it VPs of IT and HR in US, legal counsel in Singapore, VP of finance in Ireland, or HR manager in Australia. All these people were my team, some of them my peers, some even my superiors, but my purpose when it came to leadership was clear: Ensure that we have the same vision, work towards the same goals, keep each other informed about what individual departments are doing, keep each other honest and focused. In short it was about alignment, clarity and purpose. You can read some additional thoughts on this in The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss.

What can you do to form a true management team and not a group of warring kings?

Patrick M. Lencioni in his books The Advantage and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team talks about why teams fail and how to form them. I would argue that even though the dysfunctions he describes are applicable to any team, they are most often visible in management teams where people have the mindset “my team are the people reporting to me, that is my powerbase, and that is where my loyalties are”.

So what Lencioni says the five dysfunctions are and what does it mean if you want to be a part of well-functioning management or virtual team?

  • Absence of trust – no trust among team members is the primary reason that leads to problems. People are unwilling to be vulnerable before each other because they are unsure about the agenda of the others. “If I show vulnerability someone else will use it and stab me in the back.” This then leads to unwillingness to discuss problems, ask questions, and most often to inability to share information and inability to communicate at all. So what can you do about it? I would suggest considering some thoughts from Coaching Approach To Leading People. Someone needs to be the first to extend the hand of peace. Trust will come when you trusting that others have good intention in mind, when you show vulnerability others might be willing to do the same, when you share information and ask non-threatening questions, and when you give credit to the other people on the team. It may be also a good idea to solicit help of external coach or mediator and spend couple of days as a team together to resolve the conflicts brewing in the background.
  • Fear of conflict – a natural extension of the trust problem. Because you don’t trust others and don’t know how they will react, you seek artificial harmony. At the outside it may look like you are the best pals but in reality there is very little of constructive debate and very often no communication at all. This leads to everyone on the team focusing on his or her own department and because of lack of communication at management level the whole organization is not aligned. What to do about it? Well, once you build the trust then it should be relatively easy to be willing to get into a conflict. Just make sure that before every possibly difficult conversation you have answers to the three basic questions “What do I want for me? What Do I want for the other party? What do I want for our relationship?” For more on fear and difficult conversations check 6 Fears Of Leadership, How To Deal With Communication Issues.
  • Lack of commitment – when people are afraid of conflict it leads to lack of commitment. Why? Instead of arguing when I disagree with something I would rather grudgingly comply and when no one is looking I wouldn’t even don’t act at all. This leads to organization where things are “being agreed on” but in reality because no one really buys-in they are not being executed. And when things are not being executed it creates environment of lots of activity, with lack of results and that ultimately means frustration of the best people. So how do you tackle that issue? It again builds on the previous bullet points. You need to fix the previous points and even try to create, and manage, conflict to clear the air and ensure that agreement actually really means agreement.
  • Avoidance of accountability – without clear commitment and unified vision people won’t feel accountable. And even if they do, they will not hold the rest of the team accountable since it would just create useless conflict and damage relationships within the team. Well, if you fix all the things above then calling people out if they don’t deliver on their promises should be again rather easy and won’t damage relationship between team members. When everyone is truly accountable the ability of the organization to execute and deliver on the vision will go through the roof. I would suggest you also check this article about How To Deal With Broken Promises.
  • Inattention to results – and this brings us to the last dysfunction as defined by Lencioni. Lack of accountability is a breeding ground for people focusing on their personal success, status, ego, or in better cases their departments but definitely not on the good of the virtual or management team. If you see this behavior in your organization it is a great way to realize that you indeed have a problem and that you need to get back to the basics and deal with all the dysfunctions as listed above one by one.

So after reading all this let me ask you? Who do you think your team is? Are you ready to shift your mindset and start paying attention also to the other teams you are part of and not only to the one you are formally in charge of? If yes, I wish you good luck and the energy and the personal courage necessary to deal with the basic dysfunctions of your team.


Who is your team? Do you live in the old paradigm of “my team are the people working for me” rather than “the people I work with”?

Photo: © Algol / Dollar Photo Club

Categories: Leadership

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1 reply


  1. Promoted To Management? Too Bad! – The Geeky Leader

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