What can you learn from the team dynamics of your functional team?

As a functional leader of a large organization, who holds a business facing role you will inevitably experience the challenges and tensions of the matrix. That accounts for Finance Controllers, HR Business Partners, Legal Advisors, Strategists and so forth. Whilst there is rightfully a lot of attention as to how to be impactful in your business partnering role, there isn’t much attention to what type of functional team you are a member of.  That is the functional team of your peer Financial Controllers, HR Business Partners, etc who report to the same functional leader. Through our extensive work on team development of corporate functions, we became increasingly aware that the effectiveness of these functional teams are mission critical for the success and business impact of its members as Business Partners. Even more interestingly, their team dynamics may hold a wealth of useful data related to what’s happening in the business or within the broader function. ​

 

5 Team Dynamics of your Functional Team to watch out for

Here are 5 most common types of dynamics of a functional team, their potential root-cases and how to enable business partnering success through team effectiveness. When reading this, reflect on your own functional team and ask yourself which team do we become and when, whilst remembering that dynamics are fluid, may change over time and even constantly within minutes. The most frequent and predominant team behavior can be the best indicator of where to focus on.

 

  1. The “who’s got the best client contest” team
    Members of the functional team engage predominantly into discussions related to their clients, whether that is the entire business unit they are partnering, its management team or its leader. Some members may over-emphasize and talk about how that specific unit is overly-demanding, unique, requires more attention or is more important for the company. This then creates a culture, wherein all members compare against each other, solely based on the characteristics of their partnered units and hardly talk about their own team or themselves.The pitfall of this dynamic: the team will focus too much on its differences, that they will find it hardly possible to focus on their functional team’s common agenda. If driving a common agenda is imperative for the company’s or function’s success, the team may be hindered to actively engage in driving it. This dynamic, therefore maybe a mechanism for team members to resist engaging with the functional team’s common agenda, in fear that this will hinder them to fulfil their objectives in their individual business partnering roles.

    Possible mirroring of the business dynamics: the individual business units may be competing themselves for resources, budgets or recognition and this gets transferred to the functional team dynamics. The dynamic may also be a result of over-demanding business leaders (or of highly challenged businesses) who may feel they are not receiving the best functional support that their business requires.

    Building on its potential: There is clear ambition by its members in having impact in their business facing roles. They may also demonstrate a solid, in-depth understanding of their business they are facing. The starting point for this team should be to make explicit how the work within the functional team links directly to and enables the success of each individual team member in their business facing roles. If the function has a strategic direction to influence the individual businesses, the team members need to work closely together to leverage their ability to influence their partnered leaders in the businesses, as well as to openly talk about potential risks and resistances they may encounter and put plans to address them.

    2. The “detox retreat” team
    Team members find themselves relieved by coming together to share their negative or tough experiences of their business facing roles. This may also be shown by over-complimenting each other and overly expressing how glad they are to be members of this team as the only place they feel comfortable.

    The pitfall of this dynamic:team members may feel excluded by the team, unless they display some sort of “suffering” of how tough their business facing role is. The team may also alienate itself from their businesses by taking a mentality that they are under-utilized or overly resisted (us vs them). Finally, in this dynamic the team may also avoid challenging each other constructively and address their real issues. In other words, this team may also be unconsciously afraid of inner competition, which often develops within a team of peers.

    Possible mirroring of the business dynamics: this dynamic may also reflect an increasing challenging business context, in which the businesses project to the functions their own challenges or even scapegoat them for not succeeding. This may also indicate that the function represents an objective that the business don’t want to accept (e.g. the need to cut down costs or downsize). Finally, the business partners may not have created yet the right business alliances in order to drive their functional agenda.

    Building on its potential:There is a constructive potential in this dynamic to develop a forum wherein every team member feels safe enough to bring challenging topics from their business partnering role and make use of each other as a resource in order to resolve them. The team may best use their collective wisdom and capabilities to drive impact to their businesses, they may also look for root-causes of their common business facing challenges so that they can address them as a collective function structurally.

    3. The “grievance union” team
    Team members engage into criticism of their function’s operating model or broader organizational conditions. They find themselves inhibited to drive impact in their business facing role due to limited resources, ineffective inner-function processes or being fatigue by organizational change. This dynamic maybe more visible at the initial phases of organizational change implementation, as well as at the “Maturity” and “Change” life-cycle stages of the corporate function, as defined by the HBR whitepaper (see references).

    The pitfall of this dynamic: the team may get stuck into this dynamic, limiting themselves from discovering solutions and from influencing the broader functional organization. This dynamic may also risk the broader function’s reputation towards the businesses, if the members are sharing with their partnered organizations how the function inhibits them in their role.

    Possible mirroring of the business dynamics: The team’s behavior may be impacted by how their partnered businesses are skeptical or display disbelief in the functions ability to deliver. This may also be a reflection of a mismatch between the expectations of the business and the deliverables of the function. Finally, the businesses might be change fatigue themselves.

    Building on its potential: This team may have high standards for functional excellence. More work may be needed by its team members to renew their standards based on the (new) operating model of the function. Further on, they may help each other to operationalize the model more specifically in their area. This team should not lose their passion for functional excellence but use the team space as a platform for creative thinking and to influence the functional and the business organizations to deliver on their standards.

    4. The “show-off beehive” team
    Every time the team meets, members overwhelm each other with initiatives they drive in their businesses. The difference to the “client contest” dynamic is that team members primarily talk about themselves, the number of initiatives they drive and the success of them. Often this dynamic comes in “disguise”, because the sharing comes in the form of learning from each other, however the way it’s done actually increases competition and insecurity.

    The pitfall of this dynamic: aside from becoming increasing overwhelming and insecure, this dynamic may inhibit the team in focusing on initiatives that truly add value and team members, in order to “survive”, may find themselves inventing initiatives in order to compete, rather than to add true value to their businesses. The risk then is that the function can become internally focused and overly complex rather than lean. This team behavior may be reflecting that the overall function is in anxiety to stay relevant for the business.

    Possible mirroring of the business dynamics: Team members may feel underappreciated by their businesses and may look at this team for recognition. Very often there is also an internal competition amongst the business units they partner (or amongst their leaders) and that gets transferred to the functional partners of the competing units. Finally, the functional business partners may be experiencing competition with other functional partners of their business management teams and are transferring that to their functional team.

    Building on its potential: A wealth of initiatives will inevitably contain “gems” that the team can use to cross-fertilize. This dynamic can lead to a powerful team impact by addressing the individual needs for recognition through joint collaboration on initiatives, as long as they are prioritized according to the strategic agenda of the function. If there is a perception that career development within the function is overly competitive, the leader may need to put conditions in place so that competition works constructively for the team’s success.

    5. The “high-tea” team
    Whether this team meets in a structured and organized way or not, there is an evident dynamic that the topics discussed will not have any follow up or real impact. The team engages in broad business updates and sharing of no real output. No decisions are being made and of those made nothing essential can be implemented to their businesses.

    The pitfall of this dynamic: If the leader didn’t intent to lead a community of experts engaged in experience-sharing, the team’s purpose needs to be re-examined. The pitfall of this dynamic is that the team members unconsciously know that there is no real implication of this team to their businesses and if it comes that they need to jointly make decisions they will probably not have developed the ability and conditions to do so effectively.

    Possible mirroring of the business dynamics: The businesses that the team members are partnering may also be dispersed with no structural interdependency. There may also be a disconnect between the central strategy of the function and the specific requirements of the businesses.

    Building on its potential: There is a high level of freedom and flexibility in this team as to how they drive their functional agenda to their businesses. The team may better not change that, unless there are critical reasons for higher interdependency defined. If so, the team will have to do identify what aspects of their flexibility they need to preserve and how. Further on, if team members are confident that they will not lose their autonomy, they will have the best possible safe forum to share challenges and develop further their leadership and functional competencies.

 

Conclusions 
Any functional team may display one or a combination of these dynamics which may change over time. The categorizing of dynamics is not meant for classifying and labeling teams nor for seeing teams as dysfunctional. Instead it is meant to help a team and their leader to draw useful qualitative data about their partnered business organizations, the state of their overall function and their impacts. As demonstrated per dynamic, they also contain strengths and the potential to make use of them in order to create an impactful and highly effective functional team.

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