What We Learned From The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

five dysfunctions of a team

The Five Dysfunctions of a team is not an ordinary business book.

It talks about the 5-level pyramid – or the 5 dysfunctions of a team…When overcome, can transform your team to a disinterested group, to a driven and self directed team.

But what makes this book so unique is the way it is written. Rather than just providing the theory and facts, Patrick Lencioni‎ presents it in a form of a story to provide better understanding and application.

5 Questions About Your Team

Before we delve into the 5 dysfunctions of a team, Lencioni suggests to answer the following 5 questions of your team:

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

If you have answered with some Nos, then it’s what is to be expected. Bridging all these gaps and answering yes to each one, will ensure that you’re a great leader and that your team is becoming, or already is, a high-performance team.

In fact these 5 questions are what you should strive to overcome, in order to get the best from your team.

The Five Dysfunctions of a team

Lencioni identifies 5 typical levels of dysfunction. Each builds on the next, and together cause the five dysfunctions of a team.

These dysfunctions allow us to see the fundamental causes of politics and team failure.

By splitting into 5 levels, we can see, how these pitfalls build on top of each other, from one crisis to the next – Starting from the bottom up on the diagram below:

The Cause and Effects of Dysfunction

  • In an effort to avoid being vulnerable, most people won’t speak about their own personal traits and feelings. As long as this is evident, trust cannot be built and rapport across the team established
  • With the need to avoid conflict and arguments, a lot of the team dynamic is built on fake harmony. “Yes, everything is fine…” When everything is not fine, but not many people want to confront problems. As long as problems are there, there can’t be common ground and better ways of working established.
  • If people are not clear as to what is expected of them and how they fit in the team, then team members can’t be totally productive. In fact, lack of commitment often follows
  • If there’s no clarity in owners of actions, and no follow up discussions, then most things won’t get completed on time, resulting in lack of accountability across the team
  • If the team take their own personal goals more seriously than the team goals, then lack of attention to team results will follow.

The key is to build one bridge at a time. Ovecrome each of the five dysfunctions of a team, level, by level.

Let’s look at the five dysfunctions of a team in a little more detail… as well as how you can overcome them.

Dysfunction 1: Absence of trust

Trust is the first and most important factor in a team environment. Trust allows team members to establish rapport. This allows people to share their vulnerabilities and shortcomings with each other, without fear. A team in which members have trust, often don’t hesitate to ask or offer help.

If there is an absence of trust however, then team members may work in silos, not take part in teamwork and generally make assumptions of others’ characters, abilities and beliefs. An absence of trust also makes it very difficult to work with others in an affective way.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 1:

•    Personal History Exercise: This is an easy exercise which requires moving around the table, asking short questions to each team member about themselves. The idea is to make them share more about themselves. As this starts to progress, others start to open up and relate to each other. This very act helps start to build rapport. The questions should not be overly personal and should be light enough to create empathy for the speaker.

•    Team Effectiveness Exercise: This is an exercise on a more professional level. Here, the team talk about two work-related things: The one area that they make the biggest contribution to the team; and the one area that they could improve. If managed well this exercise can be very constructive and rewarding. When there is some degree of trust, then this next exercise is recommended. It will further develop unison amongst the team.

By building trust, a team makes conflict possible. And it’s conflict that allows them to discuss and define improved ways of working and better relationships over time.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict

In any relationship in life, be it marriage, friendship, parenthood or teams, it is constructive arguments that strengthen the bond. Conflict is healthy because it brings clarity, which is important for relationships to grow.

Fear of conflict leads to boring meetings, hesitation, and the need to avoid any form of argument or disagreement. Avoiding conflict results in a hands-off approach to teams, where true rapport hasn’t been developed.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 2:

•    Mining: Use a well-equipped team member to help bring buried disagreements to light, by challenging and asking questions. This enables deep rooted discussions to be made and resolutions agreed. Teams can work through issues in a safe and controlled way. Every act of ‘mining’ helps the team strengthen their bond. Moreover, it teaches members to have the courage as well as the confidence to point out issues which are important and need attention.

•    Real-time permissions: As a leader, it is important to remind the team that by having conflict, and discussing ways to work through them, is in fact extremely important for the development of the team. This simple exercise drains the stress and tension from a heated discussion and argument – helping steer the discussion to positive and constructive conflict.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of commitment

There are 2 major causes for lack of commitment amongst the team:

1.    Consensus: A lack of agreement across a team, results in there very rarely being a consensus being met. If there is no consensus, then team members will become discouraged and disinterested.

Instead, a team should look for reaching a consensus even when a complete agreement is not possible. They need to understand that not all team members can get their own way all the time.  That does not mean that their opinions are not heard. A consensus is reached when everyone’s ideas are heard and then a decision is made as to the best for the team… by the team.

2.    Certainty: Being unclear in terms of the right decision to make is also a detractor to commitment. If people are not certain of the right things to do, then commitment and morale suffers.

It is equally important to understand that having a decision is always better, compared to not having any kind of decision at all. Great teams and leaders always come up with a certain decision, even if it leads to a wrong way.

Not committing due to any of these reasons leads to ambiguity and low confidence. Remember there is only a window of opportunity in our life and a lack of commitment and decision making can kill it.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 3:

Focus on taking action and ensuring things get completed on time, every time.

•    Cascading messaging: This is one of the easiest yet valuable disciplines that any team can take up. At the end of a meeting, the team must review and confirm the key decisions made during that session. It should also be agreed which information should be shared with different members of the team and business. This helps provide transparency and communication in terms of what’s happening and when.  

•    Deadline: Another simple tool is to use a deadline of when key decisions and actions will be completed. Focus on the fact that for every task and action, the following must be answered: “who’s doing what by when?” Ensure everyone has clarity as to their tasks and deadlines.

•    Worst Case Scenario: Creating a worst-case scenario for decisions, helps us to relieve the tension and stress that may be causing inertia. Having a worst-case plan helps to pursue even the bold decisions with less fear and complexity.

Role of the leader: You should be confident enough to make decisions, even if it turns out to be wrong. If you remain confident, then it is always easier to make this decisiveness it flow to your members.

As a leader, you should also ensure that actions are being completed on time, and that people are being held accountable for their promised timeliness.

When the team come together and commit to timelines, they will usually hold each other accountable for whatever work they are supposed to complete, which brings us to the next dysfunction.

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Team Accountability

Most of the time, even if our team members are not completing work on time or are not sufficiently contributing… as leaders, we may avoid the discussion with them, hoping that performance will improve naturally.  

It’s also true for other team members. If they can’t develop the premise that it’s ok to hold eachother accountable, then dysfunction 4 will never be overcome.

It’s this accountability that’s needed in in our five dysfunctions of a team framework.

Good teams hold each other accountable and discuss performance to plan. The fear of upsetting someone is vastly reduced in a team where trust has been built. These team members often don’t take this as a personal attack, but a constructive way to improve.  

Not letting your team members know about their work can actually jeopardise relationships. Some will work hard, others won’t. By not correcting this, it will erode trust and morale across the team.

The only way to maintaining high standards of work delivery is to ensure standards are in place and people are working to them.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 4:

•    Publications of goals and standards: A good way to keep everyone accountable for their work is to publish clear goals and targets, for both the team as a whole and each team member. When everyone is clear of the roles and standards in a team, then there is no room left for ambiguity.

•    Progress Reviews: Rather than having a progress review once a year, conduct them frequently. This helps members to gauge their progress and tweak their approach as they go, so they can succeed.

Role of the leader: It is very important for the leader to create an environment in which team members are not only accountable to you, but also to each and every other member in the team.

As a leader, you should regularly communicate with your team members, regarding their work to agreed standards, as well as performance to deadlines and targets. Consistent and transparent communication helps make it comfortable for the team to hold themselves and others accountable.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Team Objectives

Each team member often puts their own needs first, ahead of the team’s needs. For instance, their ego; their career; personal life, can all get ahead. The problem is that if the team has lost sight of its goals and need for achievement, then the business will ultimately suffer.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 5:

The reality is that if the team have a solid foundation of trust; engaging in healthy conflict; are held accountable with each other and recognised for their performance and contribution, it’s far easier for individuals to put their agendas aside in favour of the group goals.

•    Public declaration of Results: publicly declaring the intended results often leads to the team pursuing the outcomes even more passionately.

•    Results based rewards: Providing rewards based on the results achieved as a team, may help them pursue team goals ahead of personal agendas.

Role of the leader: Make the team goals clear.

Rewards and recognition should be provided to members who are deserving of feedback and recognition. Make it clear who’s helping contribute to achieving the team goals, and don’t be afraid to celebrate these efforts.

Focus on providing creating ways to celebrate people’s commitment and achievements. It doesn’t all fall on providing monetary bonuses. Recognition goes a long way. The key thing is to constantly acknowledge efforts and achievement.

Wrapping Things Up

Although the five dysfunctions of a team are a fairly simple set of rules, the fact remains that they need to be applied across the team. Each layer builds on the next.

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With proper coordination, hard work and perseverance, these five dysfunctions of a team can be overcome. The result: a completely transformed team, full of high achievers!

Get your copy of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team – available on Amazon.

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