The five dysfunctions of a team

In his book The 5 dysfunctions of a team, Patrick Lencioni describes 5 dysfunctions that prevent teams from working together effectively. These dysfunctions are mutually interdependent: the presence of one dysfunction increases the chance of the other dysfunctions being present, thereby impacting on teamwork. In other words, for a team to be able to really work well together, it’s important to learn how to identify these dysfunctions and then how to avoid them. In this article I will go in more detail into these five dysfunctions and the effect they have on teamwork.

Team dysfunction 1: Absence of trust

We’ve written about trust on a number of previous occasions. See for example our articles The speed of trust and 10 actions that create trust. Trust is the basis for good teamwork, and if it’s lacking, teamwork will be virtually impossible to achieve. Patrick Lencioni shares with us the additional insight that trust is about team members daring to show their vulnerability with respect to each other. By this, he means daring to be vulnerable about your own weaknesses, your lack of skills, the mistakes you make, and your willingness to ask for help. In the knowledge that the vulnerability you are sharing will not be used against you. If this element of safety is lacking, the team members will start displaying an attitude of INvulnerability and will adopt a competitive or political approach in order to preserve their own reputation. And this is how the foundation for the second dysfunction is laid.

Team dysfunction 2: Fear of conflict

No pain, no gain! This expression makes clear how important durable relationships are in creating productive conflicts. Productive in this context means that through engaging in dialogue about differences in insights, the team members can resolve team issues quickly (for more on this topic, see for example our article The conversation). Within effective teams, this dialogue can be conducted in emotional and heated terms without the team members becoming ‘damaged’ in the process. In teams where the members do not trust each other, such an open dialogue would be impossible to conduct. Instead of constructive conflicts, an artificial harmony is created whereby team members keep their opinions and worries to themselves. And this is how the foundation for the third dysfunction is laid.

Team dysfunction 3: Lack of commitment

Teams that function well act on the basis of commitment, with members standing behind the decision that is taken. In the discussion phase, they will contribute their own ideas with passion, and once a decision has been taken, they will support it and carry it through. Even though they may find it difficult to personally back it. This feeling of joint accountability is even more important for members of management teams. They have to speak as one voice because they are aware that the employees below them will act in line with what they hear them saying and how they are getting the message across. It doesn’t take long for trivial differences between managers high up in the organisation to reach employees lower down, by which time the differences could have increased multiple times. If fear of conflict is preventing opinions from being expressed and consensus being sought, this can lead to policies and actions that are not truly supported. Team members will start covering their backs and will delay making important decisions. A lack of clarity will arise and collaboration will be agreed upon but not practised. And this is how the foundation for the fourth dysfunction is laid.

Team dysfunction 4: Unwillingness to hold each other accountable

Members of effective teams confront their colleagues with agreements that are not honoured or actions that are harmful to the common interest. Despite the fact that this can be difficult, and may lead to uncomfortable situations, they experience a responsibility to do it anyway. They take this ‘risk’ because they not only know that the individual members will grow in their role and as persons, but also that the goals of the team will be achieved. Ultimately, it leads to improved interrelations and mutual respect. In teams where the members do not feel committed to the agreements that have been made, or where there is no clear picture of the agreements made, the team members are only half-heartedly called to account, if at all. After all, it’s extremely difficult to confront someone with something that has never been explicitly agreed or made clear in the first place. Which brings us to the foundation for the last dysfunction.

Team dysfunction 5: Inattention to results

Teams exist to achieve results. If the result is no longer required, the team loses its right to exist. Period! Team members of powerful teams realise this and are geared towards achieving results together. They are keenly aware of the results they are working towards and they do not allow themselves to be distracted by less important issues. If the result is achieved, the successes are revelled in and celebrated. The opposite situation is one where teams are not working towards a common goal and where its members do not make each other accountable. In such an atmosphere, room is created to focus on individual interests and on things like ego, recognition and career planning. Or the focus turns to the interest of one’s own department at the expense of internal collaboration. It is not only the collaboration within the team or management team that suffers, but also the collaboration between the co-workers of the various departments. Which is why this team dysfunction also has a deep impact on the entire organisation.

If your interest has been aroused by what you have read, and you would like to know more about these themes and how to deal with them in practice, I strongly advise you to read Patrick Lencioni’s book. Or contact us for a ‘no-obligations’ chat about how we can assist your team in avoiding these pitfalls, and to make your team (even) more effective.

Have you got the courage to recognise, acknowledge and tackle the dysfunctions in your team?

Book tip:
The five dysfunctions of a team, Patrick Lencioni

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