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How Self-Centered Employees Become Customer-Centric Teams

How Self-Centered Employees Become Customer-Centric Teams

by Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • Fixing a dysfunctional team requires individualized employee engagement
  • Employees' basic needs are the foundation for organic growth
  • Answering "What do I get? What do I give?" leads to customer centricity

In his famous "fable," The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni outlined the basic reasons teams fail to succeed: lack of trust, fear of conflict, absence of commitment and accountability, and failure to focus on outcomes.

In a team culture like that, there's no reason to care about others or feel accountable for results. So the team fails to produce much, other than cynicism, and organic growth slows. Or stops. This dysfunction can be fixed, but first leaders must accept a grim reality: The members of a dysfunctional team have good reason to act like they do.

They're incentivized to.

How a Team Becomes a Mess

It sounds nuts -- why would professionals tolerate malfunction? Why would they choose failure?

In truth, no one enjoys dysfunction. But people don't often stick their neck out when they think no one else will. Why bother when your efforts are doomed? Why invite backlash from your distrusting, irresponsible colleagues? Why set yourself up to be hurt?

Achieving team cohesion has to begin with each person's engagement needs, not the group's dysfunction.

To prevent disappointment, people build psychological barriers between themselves and the job: If you can't be happy, avoid caring at all. That's one definition of disengagement, and it costs the U.S. economy $483 billion to $605 billion a year in lost productivity.

Still, this "in-it-for-myself" mindset is a rational reaction to a dysfunctional situation. And managers who allow it encourage all the behaviors that make teams dysfunctional. In effect, they incentivize failure, so failure is what the organization gets -- notably, the failure to grow.

Managers first must understand that dynamic in order to fix it. But blanket approaches don't work. Fixing dysfunction requires individualizing to each employee -- and to all of them at once.

Customer-Centric Employees Are Actually Self-Centered

Start with the rock-bottom basics of employee engagement: "What do I get? What do I give?" Nothing will improve until employees can articulate what they get and give. Employees don't care -- maybe can't care -- about the customer or the team until their own basic needs are met.

The best managers Gallup has studied use the Q12 employee engagement survey to answer those questions. To them, the Q12 is more than a metric; it's a suite of tools they can use to stoke the engagement that drives mission. Through frequent, ongoing conversations and individualized coaching, they catalyze workers' energy, purpose and commitment into mission-driven organic growth -- and reward them for it.

Financially, to be sure, but pay and perks have little to do with mission. People can get a paycheck anywhere. Achieving organic growth requires a higher order of psychological fulfillment. When they have it, employees can work at the very top of their game.

Start with the rock-bottom basics of employee engagement: "What do I get? What do I give?"

Customer centricity is the ultimate outcome, but it starts with those self-centered "What do I get? What do I give?" questions. That's why blanket approaches to team-fixing don't work. They start at the wrong end. Achieving team cohesion has to begin with each person's engagement needs, not the group's dysfunction.

Build a Foundation of Security for Individuals to Strengthen the Whole Team

A kind of workplace magic happens when each person knows what they get and what they give. Individuals converge into a team.

With that psychological foundation of certainty, workers can take a few chances on each other. They can ask some tough questions because others seem to care. They can push for better outcomes because accountability doesn't make them a target. They can start to trust each other. The incentive to avoid commitment or dodge accountability or avert disappointment is gone, and building up an apathy barrier stops being a rational response.

That creates a self-fulfilling dynamic of its own, but it's fragile. Managers have to keep tending it, keep coaching it, keep giving team members opportunities to trust each other. At the same time, individual engagement must expand outward to the team and the organization, reaching higher orders of engagement for long-lasting results. That's where companies get real traction on organic growth.

Archimedes said that with a lever and a place to stand, he could move the whole world. On a team, "What do I get? What do I give?" is the place to stand and the Q12 is the lever. With it, managers can move the whole team. It starts with the fundamentals of engagement. It starts with each worker. But it ends in a high-functioning, customer-centric team that helps a company grow.

Find your footing and move your team toward high performance:

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