A 3 Step Conversation Starter for Dynamic Teams

75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. (Tabrizi)

(Any team that has members from different departments is cross-functional. If marketing and production are present, for example, your team is cross-functional.)


7 challenges of cross-functional teams:

  1. Turf wars and pissing contests.
  2. Blabbermouths at the table.
  3. Maps without roads. Where are you going? Really?
  4. Dead weight and energy vampires. It’s hard to perform when someone’s sucking your blood.
  5. Resource hogs. Who gets the money and the people?
  6. Avoidance. Sweeping awkward conversations under the carpet.
  7. Glory hounds. Who gets the credit when projects succeed?

A 3 step conversation:

You can’t improve what you avoid.

There are three steps to conversations that elevate team dynamics – assessment, celebration, new behaviors.

  1. Where are we now?
  2. What are we doing well?
  3. What behaviors might nudge our team toward the next level?

Example: A conversation starter for psychological safety:

Step one: On a scale of one to ten how comfortable are we at bringing up tough issues? (Answer anonymously. Average the score and write it on the board.)

Step two: Why didn’t you choose a lower number? This is your chance to honor what’s working. You don’t have to declare your response to step one. Describe behaviors. What is our team doing right?

Step three: What behaviors nudge our team toward greater comfort at bringing up tough issues? Generate a list of three or four simple behaviors. Avoid the seduction of perfect solutions. Choose one behavior to practice for a month. Set expectations for yourself. Pat people on the back when they practice preferred behaviors. Choose a new behavior next month.

10 topics:

On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate our practice of …

  1. Supporting each other.
  2. Seeking and giving feedback.
  3. Staying on topic.
  4. Clarifying purpose.
  5. Creating actionable plans.
  6. Holding each other accountable.
  7. Establishing clear structure and process.
  8. Having fun.
  9. Sharing success stories.
  10. Evaluating progress.

What challenges do teams face?

What conversation topics might you add to the list?

Added resources: