A Case Study in Team Dysfunction: The U.S. Congress

August 25, 2017

A Case Study in Team Dysfunction: The U.S. Congress

Imagine what our country might look like today if each body of Congress approached their deliberative responsibilities as Team America instead as opposing sides (Team Republican and Team Democrat). What results could they achieve for us, their bosses, if they worked collaboratively, demonstrated trust, and showed their primary commitment to be to America?

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni sets out a model for a highly effective team, a team that can get solid results over and over again for the organization. When not working properly, the five parts of the model create dysfunction and break the team.cropped American flag

Commitment to the team

In 2017, both bodies of Congress are highly dysfunctional. To begin with, they don’t walk into the doors of our majestic Capitol Building and claim their places on Team America. Like a dysfunctional organizational team, they stay busy defending their individual departments and agendas, either their parties, their states, their districts, or their donors.

Trust within the team

When you look at Lencioni’s model, at the very heart is trust, the ability to be vulnerable to one another, to admit mistakes and to bolster each other’s weaknesses. What we see from the outside are people jeering at each other, competing for agenda victories, and often publicly looking for ways to undermine or deride each other. At least, that is how it looks from the outside, from the press conferences, the performances at State of the Union addresses, at places where we could see a demonstration of Team America, but we never do.

Conflict guiding the team

The effective team model includes conflict management, and we know there is plenty of conflict in Congress. Unfortunately, Congress rarely chooses to get us a win-win by working collaboratively. The modus operandi usually is to compete for an outcome that benefits only their side’s agenda, that claims victory for their side. Of course, in the long run, that damages America by creating a gridlocked Congress unable to fix our crumbling bridges, our skyrocketing medical costs, or the growing economic and cultural divides of our people.

Accountability to the team

In addition to trust, conflict management, and commitment, to be an effective Team America, Congress also has to be accountable to the full organization: the American citizenry. Yes, I know the ballot box is supposed to be the answer to that, but, oh boy, what it costs today to even run for office. Congress people themselves bemoan how much time they have to spend fundraising for the next election rather than putting their full-time concentration on what they were sent to Washington to do: make things better for Team America. Imagine in your organization, on your team, if you told your boss you couldn’t meet your deliverables because you had to spend most of your time raising money to cover your salary. Would your organization say, “Oh, OK?” Probably not. I think they’d realize that if you met your deliverables, gave the performance you were expected to give, and maintained a high level of productivity, your “salary” would cover itself.

Results as a team

The final piece of the model is getting results. No trust, poor conflict management, not committing to the team, and a lack of accountability inevitably lead to poor results, or no results for Team America. How long would a team exist in your organization if they never produced results? Or if the results only benefitted a small segment of the organization when they were supposed to benefit all? I think we both know the answer.

Is it possible that Congress could become Team America? As one of their bosses, and as part of the organization known as America, you should think about what results you want for your organization and what you expect them to do as a team.

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