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Patrick Lencioni: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

At the heart of it all, at the foundation of being a team, lies the most precious of all virtues and the antidote for all sin, which is humility.

I came to learn that there are two helpful precursors that make overcoming the Dysfunctions easier and more likely: first, the need to ensure that the people on a team are capable of being team player, and second, it all comes down to real people having the courage to sit down with one another and accepting the discomfort that is necessary to improve.

Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.

The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.

The fable


Jack Welch didn’t have to be an expert on toaster manufacturing to make GE a success and that Herb Kelleher didn’t have to spend a life-time flying airplanes to build Southwest Airlines.

In the story about dysfunctional team author is talking about the DecisionTech company. Their executives were called The Staff. As bed as the team was, they all seemed like well-intentioned and reasonable people when considered individually.

Lighting the Fire

A fractured team is just like a broken arm or leg; fixing it is always painful, and sometimes you have to rebreak it to make it heal correctly. And the rebreak hurts a lot more than the initial break, because you have to do it on purpose.

The first dysfunction: absence of trust. Trust is the foundation of real teamwork.

Great teams are honest with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry.

CEO asked for two things in a meeting: to be present and to participate. That means everyone needs to be fully engaged in whatever we’re talking about. Question was raised: what about when the conversation is not relevant to everyone? Sometimes, it seems that we talk about issues that would best be handled off-line. One-on-one.

CEO started a workshop with some personal histories: hometown, number of kids, interesting childhood hobbies, biggest challenge growing up, first job.

Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.

CEO asked the team to describe what they believed were their single biggest strength and weakness in terms of their contribution.

Next dysfunction CEO wrote on the table was: inattention to result. She wrote it at the top of the triangle. The tendency of team members to seek out individual recognition and attention at the expense of results. There is a place for ego on a team. The key is to make the collective ego greater than the individual ones.

In most sports, there is a clear score at the end of the game that determines whether your succeeded or failed.

If you let profit be your only guide, you won’t be able to know how the team is doing until the season is almost over.

Define your goals, your results, in a way that is simple enough to grasp easily, and specific enough to be actionable. Profit is not actionable enough. It needs to be more closely related to what we do on a daily basis.

Some potential categories for goals: revenue, expenses, new customer acquisitions, current customer satisfaction, employee retention, market awareness, and product quality. They should be measured monthly.

Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.

CEO wrote fear of conflict above absence of trust. If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony.

The next dysfunction of a team is the lack of commitment and the failure to buy in to decisions. And the evidence of this one is ambiguity.

Consensus is horrible. It becomes an attempt to please everyone. 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. Disagree and commit.

CEO wrote the last dysfunction: avoidance of accountability. Once you achieve clarity and buy-in, it is then that you have to hold each other accountable for what you sign up to do, for high standards of performance and behavior.

The peer-to-peer thing is certainly one of the issues that makes team accountability hard.

Reality sometimes doesn’t match theory.

Your ability to engage in passionate, unfiltered debate about what you need to do to succeed will determine your future as much as any product you develop or partnership your sign.

If everything is important, then nothing is.

Heavy Lifting

Is your management team as important to you as the teams you are leading. Majority are much closer to their staff than to a group of their peers on management level.

When a company has a collection of good managers who don’t act like a team, it can create a dilemma for them, and for the company. You see, it leads to a confusion about who their first team is. As strongly as you feel about your own employees and as wonderful as that is for them, it simply cannot come at the expense of the loyalty and commitment you have to the group of people you are part of as a manager.

Trust is not the same as assuming everyone is on the same page as you, and that they don’t need to be pushed. Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team. Push with respect, and under assumption that the other person is probably doing the right thing. but push anyway. And never hold back.


Makes sure that your new approach gets some traction.

The Model of the five dysfunctions of the teams

As difficult as it is to build a cohesive team, it is not complicated. Keeping it simple is critical.

The five dysfunctions from the base step to the top (and their manifestation):

  • Absence of trust (invulnerability).
  • Fear of conflict (artificial harmony).
  • Lack of commitment (ambiguity).
  • Avoidance of accountability (low standards).
  • Inattention to results (status and ego).

Members of truly cohesive teams behave:

  • They trust one another.
  • They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
  • They commit to decisions and plans of action.
  • They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
  • They focus on the achievement of collective results.

Understanding and overcoming the five dysfunctions of the teams

Absence of trust

In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good. Teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

Tools for building trust:

  • Personal histories exercise.
  • Team effectiveness exercise. Strength and weaknesses.
  • Personality profiles.
  • 360-degree feedback.
  • Experimental team exercises.

Leader: the most important action for leader is for him/her to show his/her vulnerability.

Fear of conflict

All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. It is important to distinguish productive ideological conflict from destructive fighting and interpersonal politics. It is also ironic that so many people avoid conflict in the name of efficiency, because healthy conflict is actually a time saver.

Methods and tools for more productive conflict:

  • Mining. Somebody should be a miner of conflict.
  • Real-time permission. Reminding person in conflict why it is necessary to do it.
  • Other tools. Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. TKI.

Leader: it is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict, and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. Leader’s ability to personally model appropriate conflict behavior is essential.

Lack of commitment

In the context of a team, commitment is a function of two things: clarity and buy-in. the two greatest causes of the lack of commitment are: the desire for consensus and the need for certainty.

Tools and principles for ensuring commitment:

  • Cascading messaging. Agree on communication of decisions to employees.
  • Deadlines.
  • Contingency and Worst-Case Scenario Analysis.
  • Low-risk exposure therapy.

Leader: constantly pushing the group for closure around issues. Certainty and consensus should not be prioritized.

Avoidance of accountability

In the context of teamwork, accountability refers specifically to the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.


  • Publication of goals and standards.
  • Simple and regular progress review.
  • Team rewards.

Leader: creating a culture of accountability.

Inattention to results

Every good organization specifies what it plans to achieve in a given period. If this goals are not the major driver, sometimes it can happen that team status is enough for people to be content or they simply persue some individual status improvements.


  • Public declarations of results.
  • Result-based rewards.

Leader: set tone to focus on results.

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