3 Things That Erode Team Unity

Unknown-1Earlier in the week I posted about two key ingredients for building team unity.  I proposed that shared experiences and prayer are important elements in building team unity because both aspects point towards our dependence on someone besides ourselves for accomplishing our mission and calling.    You might naturally think that a lack of these two elements would be the inroads for disunity.  And over time that will be true.  But I think there are three other aspects that will more quickly begin to erode team unity before the dependence issue is ever noticed.  Much has been written about this topic, so I know my thinking is not new.  But I share these from my observations of teams over many years.  And I would love to hear from you on this topic.

1. The Absence of Trust  Almost all books and articles on the topic of team unity will emphasize the value of trust.  Webster defines trust as the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something.  This is a helpful definition.  A team member’s ability to trust others on the team is surely based on these aspects.  If certain team members lack critical abilities then it is difficult to trust.  If the team leader lacks core character then it is difficult to trust.  If there is not a team environment of grace and truth it will be difficult to trust.  This aspect cries out for teams to be well led from a foundation of strong moral character, for team training and development, and for there to be an atmosphere of grace and truth prevalent in the environment.  When any aspect of this is missing team unity will begin to erode.

2. The Absence of a Clear Team Purpose  You can gather talented people, have stellar leaders at the helm, and even be committed to a grace and truth environment–but if the team does not clearly understand why they exist and what they are trying to accomplish it wont matter.  Unity will begin to erode as team members become worn out by continually trying to either, discern the purpose of the team, or insert their own meaning into the team environment.  Every team has to clearly understand why they exist and how they will function.  This is what makes the work meaningful.  This provides motivation for team members to contribute well.  And this aspect has to be revisited on a regular basis so teams stay on track.

3. The Absence of Meaningful Contribution  Once there is a foundation of trust and a clear stated team purpose, there still needs to be meaningful connection for every individual on the team to those elements.  Each team member needs to see their part in the whole.  They need to be able to see where they can make a meaningful contribution out of their unique gifts and abilities toward the stated purpose.  Team unity is necessarily like this.  There is the whole and the individual parts.  People need to see that they need each other and that their part in it matters.  This enhances unity.  And when team members cannot find themselves and their contribution in team functioning then they will begin to withdraw in some way and team unity begins to erode at that point.

Prayer and shared experiences can help to slow and even repair the erosion.  But the above three components are the early markers I have observed when I see team disunity.  What have you observed and experienced?

6 replies
  1. Michael C. Mack
    Michael C. Mack says:

    Great summary, Gary. In reply to your last question, I’d like to add a few others that I’ve experienced and written about: (1) Fear of Conflict: This happens because of your first point. A team that lacks trust is incapable of engaging in an unfiltered, passionate debate of ideas. Dealing well with conflict is necessary for a team to be healthy and move forward. (2) Lack of Commitment: A team that does not enter into healthy trust and conflict has a hard time being truly committed to the team. Team members need to be able to share their views in order to take ownership and make a contribution. (3) Avoidance of Accountability: On teams that lack commitment and contribution, members generally avoid accountability to one another (comes ultimately from a lack of trust). Teams need accounbtability in order to carry out their clear purposes.

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