The five dysfunctions of a team…

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

So wrote Patrick Lencioni in his book: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Lencioni 2005).

Perfection is a rare gem

Apart from those of us who have had the challenge and privilege of starting organisations from scratch, most of us inherit teams composed by others. Inherited or not, teams are rarely perfect. It falls to us to have to address the five dysfunctions that typically occur in teams:

1. Absence of trust

Lencioni attributes lack of trust to team members not being vulnerable with each other. This results in a waste of time and energy as team members resort to defensive positions with each other, are reluctant to help each other and to ask each other for help. How to build trust is by sharing experiences, demonstrating credibility and engaging with others by developing deep insights into what makes them ‘tick’.

2. Fear of conflict

Constructive conflict involves having unfiltered, passionate debate. When team members do not feel they can openly express their opinions, the result is poor quality decision-making.

Conflict serves a positive purpose because it facilitates buy-in from team members on decisions. Rather than achieving consensus, the important thing is making sure everyone is heard. This results in more transparent decisions and confidence that team members are supported by their colleagues.

3. Lack of commitment

Lack of direction and commitment can make employees – particularly able employees – disgruntled. Clear deadlines, team debriefing following key decisions and setting guidelines about what should and should not be communicated enable people to commit.

 4. Avoidance of accountability

Everyone in a team is responsible for holding each other accountable. Commitment is a precursor to accountability; you can’t have one without the other.

“People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t clearly bought into the plan”.

A key to success is the measurement of progress:

  • What are the standards expected?
  • What needs to be done?
  • Who has to do it?
  • When does it have to be done?

5. Inattention to results

It is the team’s results that really matter most. Without individual accountability though, members tend to look after their own interests rather than the team’s interests.

Clarity about expected results and rewarding team-centred behaviours helps to overcome this dysfunction.

Successful teamwork is not about mastering subtle, sophisticated theories, but rather about combining common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make teamwork so elusive.

What to do about them…

The leader’s role is to set the tone for the whole team and lead by example by:

  • being the first one to be vulnerable
  • encouraging debate and conflict
  • making responsibilities and deadlines clear
  • setting the team’s standards and
  • being clear about the team’s results.

5 dysfunctions of a team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is the first in a series of five books by Lencioni:

  1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
  2. Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators
  3. Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Team Assessment
  4. Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Facilitator’s Guide Set
  5. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Intact Teams Participant Workbook

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