The Fundamental Attribution Error

I recently finished listening to Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by one of my favorite authors: Patrick Lencioni. The book is a field guide for implementing the principles from the most famous of his several business fables: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

The first dysfunction that a high-performing team must overcome is an absence of trust. People have a natural fear of being vulnerable with each other, which prevents the development of mutual trust. And trust is the foundation of any team. Without trust, you can’t overcome the other four dysfunctions.

So, how do you develop trust? You start by simply getting to know each other. One method proscribed by Lencioni is something he calls “the personal histories exercise,” where members of the team share something significant about their past, such as their family environment or a challenge they had to overcome.

Getting to know more about each other has the side benefit of overcoming the fundamental attribution error, which Lenioni labels, “one of the great destroyers of teamwork.” This error, that is present in everyone, causes them to attribute the negative behaviors in others to their character, while they attribute their own negative behaviors to their environment. For example, if a co-worker fails to get me the monthly report on time, I assume he’s lazy. But if I’m late with a report, I attribute it to the fact that I’m much busier than usual. His fault is internal. Mine is external.

At FiveFour, we help teams overcome this by using behavioral assessments and having everyone on the team interview someone else and then report back to the group. The final step in the process is to fill out a Guide to Working With Me. I first learned about this guide when reading the book Elephants Before Unicorns and knew I had to make it part of our process.

Want to know what our guide looks like? You can download it at the end of this post. If you like it and start to use it, reach out and let me know or leave a comment below. If you have other ways of building trust among teams, I’d love to hear about those as well.

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