Cat Pants and Team Fractures

I have a cat named Missu who, I’m not going to lie, is pretty dang cute. In Missu’s kitten years, she could jump straight up in the air about 3-4’, while twisting in mid-flight to grab a feather tied to a string. We were able to make her do some crazy things in the air because we’d redirect the feather mid-flight also. She was like Neo in The Matrix.

Sadly, at 4 cat years/32 human years, Missu no longer performs her aerial tricks. But she’s always had one habit – she wants to sit on my lap at breakfast time. Both of us love this – a time to say Good Morning and stay for a good scratch (mostly for her). But there are lasting effects to this morning habit – I have huge claw holes in my slacks as she jumps up and uses her front claws to reposition herself into her morning spot. I affectionately call these my Cat Pants. I used to mend these holes diligently, but then I fell out of this because there were so many holes/it was Covid time – no meetings. At one point it became “This is how much my cat loves me.” So I kept the slacks, holes and all, just the way they were.

Until today…

I had a meeting with a client this morning and unbeknownst to me, I had a pair of these “extreme Cat Pants” on. As I got to my office and looked down, I saw the gaping holes left by my cat’s love for me. With an hour until meeting time, I had to mend those dang holes! So out came my office sewing kit and I started darning the slacks. After mending two holes, I felt I had fixed them well enough and got back to work.

Only to look down and what did I see? The cat holes that I THOUGHT I’d fixed, were still there. Upon taking a further look, I discovered that there were at least seven of these cat holes and I’d only fixed two of them that I didn’t even know existed – on the wrong pant leg. Drat! Out came the sewing kit again – this time, locating and concentrating fixes on each hole that was a major offender – on both legs.

There is a team allegory to this story (and I bet you thought I’d never get there!).

So many times when we undertake to move a team along to maturity by way of doing team-building exercises or workshops, we think we know where our teams falter, so we address these faltering points from the start. And yet, almost every time, after the exercises or workshops are done, our teams go back to their old behaviors and nothing has really been fixed. Why is that?

It’s because we haven’t taken the time to understand the deeper reasons behind their behaviors. We don’t know the team’s primary fracture or failure points. (Team Fracture = something that a Team can heal from with the right help – think of a cast for a broken leg. Team Failure = something that causes the demise of the team, never (or very painfully) to be resurrected.) Unfortunately, most team-building exercises and workshops are addressing secondary problems instead of primary ones. As with my Cat Pants, I didn’t take the time to mark out where the holes were. If I had, I would have been able to fix all seven holes at once instead of wasting time and only fixing something I thought were the problems, only to find out later on that I hadn’t fixed the most glaring ones at all.

Here’s the key: Analysis prior to team-building exercises or workshops is the only thing that can help us address the team’s primary fracture points first. From this analysis, we can pinpoint the exact problems and bring the perfect solutions to the key missteps of the team. And don’t kid yourself, there are definitely more than Five Dysfunctions inside teams, but I thank Patrick Lencioni for starting the conversations we needed 20 years ago in his book – that was great courage.

The trick is to find and fix the Foundational Level fracture points inside the team before we move on to Levels 1–3; those higher levels that can lead to Team Super-Performance.

Now, there is a way to do exactly that – mend the team in the right manner, right at its fracture points: 1) Anonymously survey the team with an assessment aimed at diagnosing and prioritizing the team’s primary fracture points, 2) Analyze the fracture points – especially those at the Foundational Level, 3) Discuss findings with the managers of the team, 4) Discuss findings with the team itself, and 5) Provide the EXACT learning that the team needs to heal its fracture(s). And get ready to be amazed at what happens with the team.

It’s time to help our teams get over Team Fractures by gathering the statistical evidence inside the team’s actual interactions, thinking and beliefs, and then creating the potential for them to heal while mapping out the additional acceleration points to help them have superior team performance.

Let’s mend our Cat Pants (and teams) the right way.