Books That Inspire: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Today we are taking a topic from a book that is not new, but it’s principles stand the test of time and can be instrumental in pulling teams together. By Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a fictional story about a team of executives working together. Unlike so many business books that focus on concepts, this one illustrates them through a fictional story. It helps to hear “real” conversations and read through the eyes of characters that may mimic people on your own team. It’s an easy read and he quickly illustrates his points through the following diagram:


“As difficult as it is to build a cohesive team, it is not complicated.”

The quote above summarizes it all: it can seem so easy at first to get a group of people working toward the goals of your business - yet we also know how incredibly difficult it is to keep everyone pointed the right direction, with the tools they need, using the skills they possess to achieve great things for all! Let’s dive into just a few key points on each of his five dysfunctions:


The first downfall of a team can the absence of trust, specifically the inability to be vulnerable with other team members. The author gives several examples of how vulnerability and trust are essential for moving forward toward goals. Collaboration between areas and constructive feedback are absent in teams that lack trust. Team members retreat back into their corners with a defensive attitude. Although trust can be difficult to build, a focused effort can yield results quickly. He recommends that the team really gets to know one another - personal histories, work experiences, personality characteristics. The more you know someone, the more you can trust them.


Next up, a common issue for teams is a fear of conflict. News flash: People on your team will disagree. That’s great news! Different opinions and perspectives bring a roundness to a team and makes sure that no option is left unexplored. Managing this conflict in a healthy way can be difficult though. Many people avoid it at all costs, not wanting hurt feelings - but trusting teams can feel vulnerable enough to voice their disagreements and come to compromises that benefit all. Leaders should encourage healthy debate and model bringing conflict to light to solve problems quicker and more effectively.


A lack of commitment can manifest itself in many different ways. In this dysfunction, the author is discussing the idea of buy-in. Here is a great quote: “Reasonable human beings do not need to get their way in order to support a decision, but only need to know that their opinions have been heard and considered.” He encourages teams to consider all options, then decide on one together and follow through as a group. Individuals holding on to doubts will only decrease the chances of overall success. He also emphasizes that simply avoiding a decision is much worse than making the wrong one.


Issues can also arise when there is an avoidance of accountability. Along with the same concept of healthy conflict, are your team members willing to say something if another colleague isn’t pulling their weight? Peer pressure is a powerful force, and using it within your team is a sure way to get great results. Holding others accountable shows respect for all by encouraging high standards. Creating rewards for team achievement instead of individual goals is another way to encourage inter-team accountability. Hopefully a culture of accountability will lead to less formal performance reviews and disciplinary issues and more constant constructive feedback.


The final tier of the pyramid is inattention to results. What does this mean - don’t we all want results? Yes, but is everyone on your team working hard toward the SAME goals. Do they have individual ideas and goals that suit their ego and personal objectives? Oftentimes these differ from the goals of the group and that can be to the detriment of the overall team. This could include money, status, and other downfalls at the executive level. These teams will lose their competitive edge. Again, Lencioni points to team results oriented goals as a way to keep everyone rowing in the same direction.

Take a look at the leadership in your company. Are you at risk for complacency in any of these areas? It takes incredible discipline to practice these principles day in and day out and ensure you have built a team set on meeting your overall goals. If you’d like to read more detail, please check out this book!

Liz WhittenComment