The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, March 19, 2002)
In his previous books, “The Five Temptations of a CEO” and “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive,” Lencioni employed a narrative style to deliver a modern parable of leadership gone awry. Using fictional but true-to-life characters, he identified some of the most compelling personal challenges business leaders face and offered practical, workable solutions for overcoming these inherently human leadership flaws. Lencioni takes the same approach in “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” only this time he applies his leadership principles in a team rather than an individual setting.
Lencioni’s core message is that all teams suffer from five basic dysfunctions:
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results
These dysfunctions may seem like old news to some. After all, you don’t have to attend too many meetings to experience some or all of these symptoms. So what separates Lencioni’s book from all the other teambuilding tomes on the market? The way he goes about attacking these common problems.
According to Lencioni, the team’s ability to perform at high levels is a direct result of its willingness and ability to confront these dysfunctions before trying to work on the “real stuff” of the business. In fact, he argues, teams can’t make any real headway with the business of running the business until they first overcome these five barriers. Accordingly, much of the book deals with Kathryn’s struggles to get the team to acknowledge that to have any hope of success; they must first work on themselves. Once they learn to trust each other, engage in productive conflict, hold each other accountable and focus on results, then they can set their sights on turning the rest of the company around.
A Simple (but Difficult) Solution
How do you fix a dysfunctional team? First, acknowledge the problem. Then look closely at where your team stands in regards to each dysfunction and take specific action to counteract any problems. In particular, Lencioni recommends the following:
- Begin to build trust. It all starts with trust. If people can’t be open and vulnerable with each other, you will never be able to take on the real issues. If you can’t deal with the real issues, the company will never get anywhere.
- Encourage conflict. Dysfunctional teams avoid conflict, good teams revel in it. The key is to focus on productive conflict, meaning that you argue and debate the issues, not people or personalities.
- Gain commitment. Let go of the need for consensus and certainty. Instead, focus on achieving clarity around the goals and gaining buy-in on how to get there. “Great teams,” says Lencioni, “make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, even those who voted against the decision.”
- Enforce accountability. Nothing kills a team quicker than the failure to hold people accountable for their performance. Publish standards for each member of the team, regularly review each member’s performance, and provide consequences/rewards to reinforce those standards. Never let people off the hook just because they perform well in their functional areas.
- Pay attention to results. Monitor and track progress, focusing on team rather than individual accomplishments. Tie rewards to team-based results.
In the book, Lencioni explains in detail how each of the five dysfunctions gets in the way of effective teamwork. More important, he provides specific tools, techniques and exercises to help teams discard their dysfunctional behaviors and develop new and more effective ways of interacting with each other.
Lencioni believes that building great teams involves a simple but difficult process. It requires hard work, patience, dedication and strong commitment from the top. If you go looking for the quick fix, you’ll end up with quick frustration and disappointment. The key to success, he argues, lies not in mastering complex, sophisticated theory but in diligently practicing a small set of principles over a long period of time.