Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

This was an interesting read mainly because this is not the typical format for presenting these business-style books. Patrick Lencioni writes his books in fables, letting the underlying principles present themselves in an entertaining story.

This story focuses on a team that is failing to perform, and is faced by a new CEO coming in and taking a “new” approach to running the organization. The five dysfunctions of this team (and really any team failing to perform) can be categorized as:

An Absence of Trust

Team members must trust the rest of the team in order to put their ideas and themselves out there. A key indicator that your team may be failing here is if people seem to be holding back their opinions. If they don’t trust others to engage with their ideas in good faith, they’ll likely hold back. This has the added “benefit” of them being able to dismiss later failures as they were not really on board with that plan anyways.

A Fear of Conflict

To find the best path forward a team must be willing to engage in conflict (read: debate). If these discussions are not taking place in favor of avoiding conflict, you’re team will not be excelling. This doesn’t mean you should argue just to argue. People should be encouraged to voice their opinions when working to make a decision, and to argue their points fully. Building off of the trust last discussed, people need to know that everyone will give them the benefit of the doubt that the argument is coming from a place of “what is best for the team”. This does NOT mean that the person arguing the loudest will get their way, which leads right to the next dysfunction.

A Lack of Commitment

After your team as passionately argued the various sides of any decision, the team needs to come back together and all commit to the decision that is made. This is especially true for the people who were lobbying for a different outcome. This, to me, is likely the hardest of the dysfunctions for people to get on board with. You’ve just told people to fully voice their thoughts and defend their position, and now you’re asking many to abandon those positions and start carrying water for the position they were just opposing.

This made me think of a quote from The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier:

Letting go when you don’t get your way, especially when you don’t feel that your objections have been heard, is hard, and it will have to happen from time to time. At this level especially, you must decide whether you want to fall in line or quit. The middle ground, openly disagreeing with your peers, does nothing but make the situation worse for everyone.

An Avoidance of Accountability

Peter Drucker famously said “What gets measured gets managed.” This dysfunction tends to stem from the social pressure to avoid the uncomfortable conversations about holding people accountable for commitments and results. By making these measurements the standard process, you can remove some of the pressure on individuals to review results. By having a standing metric check, the group is monitoring, not a specific person “calling you out”. As people get comfortable with the accountability (see “trust” above) you’ll see the accountability checks shift from processes to individuals.

Inattention to Results

Thinking back to Call Sign Chaos:

Every institution gets the behavior it rewards.

The best way for every individual on the team to succeed is to make sure the team succeeds. This may mean putting personal results in the passenger seat to ensure the team succeeds as a whole. This is the final dysfunction, and builds on all the others. Once the other items have been addressed, it will come naturally to put the team goals at the top of the priority list.

People will already be in a position of checking their ego, and the candor encouraged through the conflict and commitment items will make it easy to keep each other focused on the team’s goals.

By addressing these dysfunctions we see a team transformed from failing to excelling over the course of a few hour-long audiobook. These principles are represented as building on each other by the author:

There are additional resources available on the author’s company page here.

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