The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

by Patrick Lencioni

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Our Main Take-away:

Managing or working on a team where infighting, a lack of accountability or jockeying for position is the norm. It’s like a dysfunctional family, except worse, because you spend so much more time with your dysfunctional work family — at least 40 hours a week.

This actually is pretty normal in most organizations, and although it isn’t easy, it is completely possible to overcome. Dysfunctional behavior on a team has very identifiable roots and with a little developed awareness, logic and communication, even the most disharmonious, ego rampant teams can row together in the boat of progress.

Reasons to Read:

Lets first start with these five questions about your team:

  1. Do your team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  2. Are your team meetings compelling and productive?
  3. Does your team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  4. Do your team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  5. Do your team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?

If you’ve answered “yes” to all five, you are at the top of the incredible manager list — great job! If you have answered “no” to any of these questions, you likely have some work to do. Which is why we recommend spending some time in this book.  What we have found in our work is that every leader struggles with building a high functioning team.

Why are teams so dysfunctional? They are made up of individuals with varied interests, strengths and weaknesses. Even the most well-intentioned people slip into unproductive and unhealthy behavior. Combine that with a manager who isn’t skilled in team building and guiding in this area, and wammo — dysfunctional team. But Lencioni says with knowledge, courage and discipline, teams can just as quickly become not only cohesive, but high performing.

Dysfunction #1 : Absence of Trust
PROBLEM: This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses, or need for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is not possible.

SOLUTION: As the manager, set the good example by asking for help from your team members, admitting your own weaknesses and limitations, and be the first to own up to a mistake. When you take the lead, others will follow. Slowly, these habits will become culture and the team will begin to build the first unshakable brick in the pyramid — trust.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
PROBLEM: Teams that lacktrust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, there is a lot of posturing and precious time is wasted, resulting in inferior decisions.

SOLUTION: Establish that conflict is welcome and purposeful. Define what healthy conflict looks like by praising healthy examples or giving corrective feedback if conflict veers towards unhealthy. You can also “mine for conflict” by opening a meeting with a bad idea to see if everyone will agree to avoid conflict, and use this as a litmus test to open up healthy discussion. Lastly, you can designate a devil’s advocate in a meeting, or use pro and con lists for ideas to get people to open up to sharing a differing perspective.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
PROBLEM: Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled.

SOLUTION: Clarity and closure are paramount to overcome this dysfunction and move to the next level. Setting clear deadlines, reviewing key decisions at the end of meetings as well as what should and should not be communicated to other staff and contingency planning can help teams overcome there fears by creating clear plans and facing potential pitfalls and the fear of failure head on so everyone can commit.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Team Accountability
PROBLEM: When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team. This allows for mediocrity, poor performers to slip by and the leader to become the soul source of discipline.

SOLUTION: If teams have come this far, they have trust and commitment, then they will know that a team member calling them out not only has the right to do so because expectations and deadlines were clear, but that it is not a personal attack. This allows team members to confront difficult issues to hold each other accountable. Clear standards, progress reviews and team rewards are also important to make sure this area stays healthy.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Team Objectives
PROBLEM: Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

SOLUTION: When teams have a solid base of trust, healthy conflict, commitment and team accountability and are recognized within the company for performance via praise or rewards, it will be easier for team members to put their own needs aside for the sake of the team. With these solutions, teams should be able to retain top performers, handle failure with resilience and stay focused.

We love this book because it hits at the heart of issues most of us face as leaders.  We have found the resource to be so helpful that we often use the philosophies and teaching as as basis for our team building workshops.

Amazon Summary:

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni once again offers a leadership fable that is as enthralling and instructive as his first two best-selling books, The Five Temptations of a CEO and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. This time, he turns his keen intellect and storytelling power to the fascinating, complex world of teams.

Kathryn Petersen, Decision Tech’s CEO, faces the ultimate leadership crisis: Uniting a team in such disarray that it threatens to bring down the entire company. Will she succeed? Will she be fired? Will the company fail? Lencioni’s utterly gripping tale serves as a timeless reminder that leadership requires as much courage as it does insight.

Throughout the story, Lencioni reveals the five dysfunctions which go to the very heart of why teams even the best ones-often struggle. He outlines a powerful model and actionable steps that can be used to overcome these common hurdles and build a cohesive, effective team. Just as with his other books, Lencioni has written a compelling fable with a powerful yet deceptively simple message for all those who strive to be exceptional team leaders.

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