When Tim, a Wall Street veteran, took over the Los Angeles office of a large financial services firm, he first attempted to learn about his new team in a team meeting. No one answered his questions, until the acting managing director (the leader of the team for six months until Tim came on board) offered that everything was going great.
It wasn’t. As team consultants Linda Adams, Abby Curnow-Chavez, Audrey Epstein and Rebecca Teasdale describe in their book, The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor and Authenticity Create Great Organizations, the acting managing director, Matt, was in fact what the authors call a “saboteur.” Saboteurs, who are not always the leaders of the team, create fear and distrust, causing team members to go into “self-preservation mode,” the authors write. People on what the authors call “Saboteur Teams” will “focus on playing defense and keeping their jobs instead of making forward progress,” they write. The result: team goals are not met, company goals are not met and employees wonder how long they can last.
The Saboteur Team is one of four team types that the authors — former corporate executives who are now all principals of the consulting firm The Trispective Group — have identified through their work with clients of their firm. The Saboteur Team is the worst of the lot, followed by these types:
- Benign Saboteur Team, in which people get along and work hard as individuals but don’t really work together well. “On Benign Saboteur Teams,” the authors write, “team members… put their heads down and get their work done. They don’t share responsibility for the team’s health, and they don’t commit to each other’s success.”
- Situational Loyalist Team, in which there are deep pockets of trust and the leader is generally well-liked by all, but the trust, the authors write, “is not uniform across the entire team.” As the authors explain, “Men and women on these teams typically know their team is not running as smoothly as it could. They have candid conversations about the dropped balls and missed opportunities with some of their colleagues. And with others, they offer support but stop short of true candor.”
- Loyalist Team, in which team members, the authors write, “trust each other unconditionally; assume positive intent, and if they can’t get there alone, they ask; talk to each other, not about each other; care about each other’s success as they do their own; put the team’s agenda ahead of their own; push each other to do their best work; discuss the toughest issues in the room and leave aligned; and give each other feedback, even when it’s hard.”
Diagnosing and Fixing Your Team
In The Loyalist Team, the authors describe how they built a 360-degree assessment for diagnosing the typology of a team based on measuring “a team’s tendencies, traits, characteristics and results from multiple dimensions.” The assessment surveys team members and stakeholders on such questions as, “How much do team members trust one another?” “How likely are they to discuss the hard topics?” and “How often do team members provide feedback to one another?”
In the book, readers are invited to use a detailed Loyalist Team Checklist, which includes statements about team motives, team mindsets and team behaviors, to diagnose their own teams. The statements are in columns reflecting the four types of teams. The team-type column with the most checkmarks (indicating that the statement is true) is the team type that corresponds to your team.
A specific list of suggestions for how leaders or members of a team can fix teams is then offered in the chapters dedicated to each team. “In short,” the authors write in summary, “Saboteur Teams need a turnaround, Benign Saboteur Teams need a wake-up call, Situational Loyalist Teams need a nudge and Loyalist Teams need to find their next challenge.”
The long fact-based case studies and the list of how-tos make the four-type framework in The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations an effective tool for recognizing and resolving tenacious team issues.