The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Cover

The “Book” during unboxing!

Today we begin the read of  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, Copyright 2002, 33rd printing) as part of our Re-Read Saturday feature. This book uses a business novel approach to make his points. As I noted as we completed the re-read of XP Explained, Steve Adams suggested this book. This is a first read for me.  Please buy a copy and read along.  When we are done I will invite anyone that has contributed to the discussion to appear on the Software Process and Measurement Cast for a wrap-up discussion.

The book includes an introduction, two major sections, and 4 additional chapters. The two sections are titled:

  1.    The Fable.  The fable has five parts noted in the table of contents; however, it is made up of a large number of subsections.
  2.    The Model with three parts.

I suspect that we will read the book over 12 -13 weeks, each week representing a review of roughly 20 – 30 pages (depending on breaks in the book and the need to discuss the Lencioni’s ideas). Now without further ado…


In the introduction, Lencioni begins by throwing down the gauntlet that teamwork is the ultimate competitive advantage.  In his mind, it is such an advantage because it is rare.  If I hold up the evidence I see in my career as the norm Lencioni hits the mark; real teamwork is not easy and often conflicts with what many of the perceived tenants of the dog-eat-dog hierarchical work environment.

Lencioni goes on to suggest that teams because they’re made up of people, are dysfunctional by nature. Teams often reflect all of the dysfunctions of the people in and around the team.  That said, the basic premise of the book is “that building a strong team is both possible and remarkably simple.”  However, at the same time is hard to create and care for a strong team.  Strong teams require that we overcome behavioral tendencies that disrupt the ability of people to work together.

Lencioni concludes the introduction with a great ‘why should I read this book’ hook: the idea that we are interested in teams because the real power of teamwork is that you achieve more than individuals could do alone.

Section 1: The Fable

Quick Notes: The Fable section is composed of 45 subsections.  Each section ranges from one page to 90 pages.  For example, the first section is called Luck and is a one pager.  The first few sections are an exposition to build upon later in the book.

Luck introduces basic plot premise of the Fable, which Lencioni uses to illustrate the five dysfunctions of a team. DecisionTech is in trouble (if you did not know what a struggling firm looked like in 2002, by 2016 I am sure you have seen one or more them). The Board of Directors, lead by the Chairman, has decided to bring in an outsider, Kathryn Peterson, as the new CEO.  The Chairman of the Board is her primary supporter. 

Part one: Underachievement 

This section continues the exposition and provides sections that include background on the main players in the overall morality play. (Section titles are in bold)

Backstory – DecisionTech began as well funded startup with a hand-picked executive team, nicknamed “the staff” by the rest of the firm. The executive team was much akin to an all-star team.  The firm started off with a great attitude.  The beginning mentally painted the picture of the infamous emotional cycle of change many endeavors seem to face.  By the two-year anniversary, the initial CEO and co-founder, Jeff Shanley was asked to step down but not to leave (warning bells, anyone?). The management team had developed into a toxic morass with people holding on the potential payout of going public. No one was unhappy that Jeff was moved aside.

Kathryn – The other executives of DecisionTech had significant problems with Kathryn’s lack of experience in high tech and the culture of the firms she had been with. That said everyone recognized that the Chairman of the Board was known to have good instincts.  He personally assured the rest of the Board that she would succeed. In reality, DecisionTech was at the edge of the cliff and just changing people without address the real issues was not going to solve the problem. The last sentence in this section: “she (Kathryn) had an amazing gift for building teams” foreshadows the main theme of the book.

Grumblings – In the first few weeks of Kathryn’s term as president, she did or at least was perceived to do nothing other than schedule a series of off-site executive meetings.  People complained about being asked to be away from the office and not being able to control the agenda.

Observations – The title of this section is critical and goes a long way to explaining Kathryn’s behavior that set off grumblings.  Observing DescionTech for two weeks provided Kathryn with an understanding of just how dysfunctional her executive team was and how big a challenge it would be to sort things despite her vast experience.

The next section establishes the background of the individuals (this is not a team, yet) on the executive team.  These first few sections provide a basis for the raison d’être of the book.  Lencioni has painted a picture of a start-up that began with great expectations and an all-star cast of players to staff the executive level. There is no indication that the executive team worked well or played well together.  The lack of teamwork had brought the firm to the brink of failure.

Buy a copy of  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and read along.  Using the link will help support the blog, podcast and most importantly the author of  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.