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It May Be the Number One Obstacle to Effective Teamwork

I don’t know if it is or isn’t (there are lots reasons why team’s perform poorly) but the fundamental attribution error could possibly be the number one, maybe number two obstacle to effective teamwork.


The fundamental attribution error simply means that I attribute your actions in error based on my limited understanding of you and/or the situation.

For example, you’re driving in your neighborhood one day where a woman driving a car in front of you decides to follow the speed limit – 25 MPH. Going down the hill she puts her brakes on repeatedly. You are already late to work and this frustrates you even more. “Of all the days,” you think to yourself, “this clown, this jerk, this bozo decides to go the speed limit. And I know she is frustrating me on purpose because she doesn’t like how close I am to her bumper."

 "That does it,” you tell yourself, “I’m going to pass this inconsiderate dork.” Just as you do, you catch in the corner of your eye a police car. You attributed in error this woman’s motives and now you will pay the price. She saw the police car the whole time, but you were so busy attributing her motives in error you didn’t notice.

Our brains fill in the gaps when we don’t have all of the pieces to the puzzle. Often times we fill in the gaps in error. On teams this can affect relationships and participation.

For example, a team member says something to you in a team meeting that is somewhat direct and you feel they don’t like you. What is the result? You will either fight or flee (flight). Both are not healthy to the team because they focus on other things besides the tasks that the team is working on.

Good leaders will recognize that relationships are critical to the success of their team. Good team leaders are good facilitators. In addition to ensuring the team spends time together so they can understand each other, good team leaders, with their team, will set norms around team participation, nip unhealthy conflict when it raises its ugly head and focus the team on the issues and tasks, not personalities or other extraneous obstacles.

Do you have any examples of the fundamental attribution error in all of its glory? Do you agree the fundamental attribution error may be the number one or number two obstacle to effective teamwork? Please share in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing your responses.

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Mike Rogers
Founder and owner of Teamwork and Leadership
MikerogersMike has led, trained and consulted in business with hundreds of
individuals and teams on leadership and team concepts. He has served in a
number of entry level to senior level positions in both business and
volunteer work. His greatest satisfaction is seeing others succeed.

He is the proud father of eight children and one Grandchild and has
been married 25 years to the best part of his day! If you would like to
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