“We sell our products nationwide largely through our sole distributor partner. Over the years, we feel that we’re not getting our desired results because our distributor lacks the sense of urgency and accountability. We have tried different approaches like team-building exercises and incentives to motivate them. We simplified our objectives and strategies for clearer understanding and better execution. When problems arise, they tend to avoid ownership and accountability and blame everyone else except themselves. How else can we work together as a team and accomplish more as a result?” –Frustrated Mark.

Many principal-distributor relationships do not attain a healthy level of relationship and maximum performance as a team. Several attempts have been done with little effect to most. I recently finished reading a book which I find relevant to your question.  This book is entitled, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by a best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni.  In this book, Lencioni discusses the five behavioral challenges in working in a team and how to avoid them. He calls these challenges as dysfunctions of a team. Here’s how Lencioni explains the five dysfunctions.

*Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust*. This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another, and are thus unwilling to admit their mistakes, acknowledge their weaknesses or ask for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.

In order to maintain or improve trust level in your team (i.e. your company and your distributor partner) Lencioni suggests that team members get to know each other on a more personal level.  To accomplish this, he suggests finding opportunities to spend more time together in different occasions which includes off-site meetings, strategic planning sessions, and social activities. Lencioni adds that sharing personal histories or testimonies will help team members to understand one another’s backgrounds which in turn, help avoid unfair judgments about their behaviors.  Some companies I know involve the family members of their employees together with their distributor’s employees in special events like Christmas parties.

*Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict*. Trust is critical because without it, teams are unlikely to engage in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues. This creates two problems. First, stifling conflict actually increases the likelihood of destructive, back channel sniping. Second, it leads to sub-optimal decision-making because the team is not benefiting from the true ideas and perspectives of its members.

To maintain or improve conflict management, I particularly like Lencioni’s advice to “establish team rules of engagement for acceptable conflict (e.g. behaviors, displays of emotion, language, process), and to “clearly set the expectation that conflict is both good and necessary for the team.”

*Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment*. Without conflict, it is extremely difficult for team members to truly commit to decisions because they don’t feel that they are part of the decision. This often creates an environment of ambiguity and confusion in an organization, leading to frustration among employees, especially top performers.

To improve commitment, Lencioni suggests that leaders must ensure that members are clear about what they are agreeing to do because they will be accountable to it.  A joint-plan with clearly defined key action steps need to be regularly reviewed and discussed.  As a follow through action, conduct a weekly check-point meeting with key people who execute the plans.

*Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability*. When teams don’t commit to clear plan of action, peer-to-peer accountability suffers greatly. Even the most focused and driven individuals will hesitate to call their peers on counterproductive actions and behaviors if they believe those actions and behaviors were never agreed upon in the first place.

To improve accountability, Lencioni suggests that goals and standard of behaviors are written and discussed to the team. Train the team members to describe the behavior and not the person when calling out on another’s aberrant behavior. He also advices a quick response to deviations from plans. Performance issues of the team must be quickly highlighted and addressed.

*Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results*. When team members are not holding one another accountable, they increase the likelihood that individual ego and recognition will become more important than collective team results. When this occurs, the business suffers and the team starts to unravel.

Of the four tips Lencioni offers to improve attention to results, I particularly like the idea of having team members make public commitments to objectives. Lencioni argues that “when people make public declarations of their intentions to do something, they are much more likely to follow through and less likely to let personal needs take precedence.”

I suggest you spend more time and effort in improving your team’s trust level. As Lencioni’s model suggest, trust is the foundation of a more effective and enduring relationship.

*Emilio Macasaet III is the Chief Distribution Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. He will be running the programs, 4th Advance Trade Marketing on October 2-3, 2014 and the 9-Step Strategic Sales Planning Model on October 14-15, 2014. For more information,email info@mansmith.net <info@mansmith.net>, call (+63-2) 584-5858 <%28%2B63-2%29%20584-5858>/412-0034 or text (+63) 918-81-168-88. *