The “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team ” by Patrick Lencioni is written as a leadership fable, a story of a technology company that is struggling to grow and find customers. The new CEO recognises that the company has innovative products and great talent, however the executives are not working together as a team, negating the advantages of the companies innovative products and talented people. The team is struggling with their situation and are unable to come to agreement on an appropriate solution to their problems. The team dynamics erode into naming, blaming and shaming, no one is accepting responsibility, deadlines are being missed and moral is on the decline. The executive team is unable to make important decisions and as a result the company is losing the battle for market share…
“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”
To get the people in a team aligned and rowing in the same direction requires the CEO and the executives to address the following five dysfunctions of their team.
Dysfunction 1: Absence of Trust
The first dysfunction is the absence of trust amongst team members. The type of trust the author is talking about here is the ability of group members to show their weaknesses, to be vulnerable and open with one another. Trust is never generated in teams when the team members are not prepared to be vulnerable. Instead they feel the need to be right, to be strong and competent, so much that they are unable to be vulnerable and open with one another. Trust requires that team members have confidence in each other intentions, that they are good and therefore have no reason to be protective and careful in the team. The when I ‘m vulnerable it will not be exploited and used against me by the team. The lack of trust amongst teams is a huge waste of time and energy as team members invest their time and energy in defensive behaviours, reluctant to ask for help and to assist others.
The key to overcoming a lack of trust is shared experiences, multiple follow – throughs and integrity. In the fable the team completes a Myers Briggs assessment to get the team talking about one another’s strengths and weaknesses and so become comfortable with one another.
“…teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
The primary role of the leader is to lead my example, be the first one to be vulnerable, and create an environment where it’s safe to be vulnerable. Building trust makes conflict possible!
Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict
Trust is the foundation of great teams and it’s trust that makes team conflict possible. Teams become dysfunctional when they are unable to productively deal with conflict. All meaningful relationships require productive conflict for them to grow. Healthy conflict occurs when people talk about the issue at hand avoiding personal attacks, looking for the best solution for the team. Teams tend to avoid conflict often replacing it with an artificial harmony.
“Harmony itself is good, I suppose, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict. But if it comes only as a result of people holding back their opinions and honest concerns, then it’s a bad thing.”
We wear masks and focus on being nice to everyone. however, productive conflict is required for teams to become functional. This allows for meaningful dialogue where people are open to share, without feeling fearful of reprisal or criticism. One of the worst team dysfunctions is when you have a team of “yes men”.
Leaders need to encourage debate, support it and keep it productive. Teams who avoid conflict spend much time “off-line” never making decisions that the group can commit to. Healthy and productive teams accept that conflict is a normal part of being in a team to learn to deal with it productively.
“…meetings and movies have a lot in common…A movie, on average, runs anywhere from ninety minutes to two hours in length. Staff meetings are about the same…And yet meetings are interactive, whereas movies are not…And more importantly, movies have no real impact on our lives…. [and]…Every great movie has conflict. Without it, we just don’t care what happens to the characters.”
When working with teams a leaders need to understand the importance of conflict in teams, being careful not to try and steer the team towards premature resolution of conflict with the intention of protecting people. It’s important for leaders to help the team members to learn and develop positive conflict resolution skills. The beast way to do this is for leader to “lead by example”, modelling the appropriate behaviours, rather than trying to smooth over the conflict.
Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment
When teams engage in productive conflict they can confidently commit and buy-in to decisions. Commitment is a function of clarity and buy-in. Productive teams make clear decisions and are confident that they have the support from every team member. A lack of commitment usually arises from not hearing all the teams concerns before making a decision. There can be no commitment without debate. People will not buy into something when their opinions and thoughts on the matter were not included and discussed. “If they don’t weigh in, then they won’t buy in.” This is not as much about seeking consensus as it is about making sure that everyone is heard.
“The point here is that most reasonable people don’t have to get their way in a discussion. They just need to be heard, and to know that their input was considered and responded to.”
At the end of the day everyone needs to get to the point where they can say, “I may not agree with your ideas but I understand them and can support them.”
“When people don’t unload their opinions and feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board.”
Leaders can help to facilitate commitment by reviewing all key decisions made at the end of team meetings, making responsibility and deadlines clear.
Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Accountability
Without team commitment you cannot have accountability. If the team is to be accountable, everyone must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.
“People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t clearly bought in to the same plan.”
At the end of the day it’s about each team member being accountable to the team. This means that a team member never lets the team down when is comes to meeting commitments. The team needs to hold their peers responsible for achieving results and working to high standards. It’s the responsibility of each team member to hold one another accountable and accept it when others hold them accountable.
It’s often the case, that when teams are not holding one another accountable it’s usually because they’re not measuring their progress. It’s important to make clear what the team’s standards are, what needs to get done, by who and by when. Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability.
Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results
When teams are not held accountable the team members tend to look out for their own interests, rather than the interests of the team. A healthy team places team results as the most important goal. When all team members place the team’s results first the team becomes results orientated.
“Our job is to make the results that we need to achieve so clear to everyone in this room that no one would even consider doing something purely to enhance his or her individual status or ego. Because that would diminish our ability to achieve our collective goals. We would all lose.”
Leaders need to make the teams results clear for all to see, rewarding the behaviours that contribute to the team’s results. It’s the responsibility of the leader to keep the teams focus on results.
By addressing these dysfunctions, what results is a cohesive team….
“…and imagine how members of truly cohesive teams behave:
1. They trust one another.
2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
3. They commit to decisions and plans of action.
4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans
5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.”
The is a really great book on team dynamics and team work, in fact it’s one of the best books on the subject that I’ve read. The book is written as a fable which help one get a really vivid picture of how a healthy team interacts and what is feels like to be part of a successful team. Although written as a fable, the book provides practical advice, which leaders can use in their own teams.
The book is a small and easy to read and the model provided is simple to understand, making it a powerful tool for helping teams improve. I highly recommend this book to anyone, who leads a team. This book will help you understand what a successful team looks and feels like.
Patrick Lencioni has also written a follow-up workbook “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators ” written to help teams work through resolving the five dysfunctions together.