Government leadership crisis: Lessons for HR

by 23 Feb 2012

The leadership crisis that has engulfed Canberra has undermined the business of governing, and left the Labor party in disarray. As the Gillard vs Rudd showdown demonstrates, workplace egos have been the undoing of countless governments and companies alike. Yet experts have advised that HR can gain some pointers from these public displays, namely by instilling proper team development processes that can ensure team expectations are met and importantly, conflict-resolution procedures are followed.

According to Pia Lee, CEO of leadership consultancy firm LIW, most people’s true leadership stripes are shown in a crisis, and that’s when they demonstrate fortitude of mind, strategic thinking and resilience. “Their challenge – and our dilemma – is, why wait for a crisis for that to emerge? Whilst strong, directive and often inspirational leadership is required in a crisis situation, we shouldn’t have to wait for one to arrive to see that level of leadership,” Lee said.

Monash University have compiled a guide to managing and optimising team performance. While the model describes an ideal team development process, many teams do not have a clear start or end point, and the framework can be continuously applied. 

Notably the guide investigates symptoms of dysfunctional teams, and suggests reviewing your team in its current state will indicate whether dysfunction exists. Various symptoms, outlined below, should help you recognise if your team is performing sub-optimally. Author Patrick Lenconioni outlined the following factors in his book,The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – A Leadership Fable:

Absence of trust
Stems from a team member's unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

Fear of conflict
This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

Lack of commitment
A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.

Avoidance of accountability
Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviours that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.

Inattention to results
Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) the needs of the collective goals of the team.

For more information on building healthy team and optimising team performance, visit the Monash University toolkit.


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