The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Cover

The “Book” during unboxing!

Today we continue our re-read of  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, Copyright 2002, 33rd printing). This is a business novel that highlights the dysfunctions of teams that reduce their effectiveness.  Teams are one of the most ubiquitous features of all organizations (once you get past solopreneurs); therefore problems in teams directly translate to problems in organizations.  If you do not have a copy of the book, please buy a copy from the link above and read along.  Today I begin by exploring the different personalities on “The Staff” (DecisionTech’s executive staff) and conclude with the run up to the off-site meeting in Napa which exposes some of the team’s problems that are hurting DecisionTech.

The Staff

The executive team at DecisionTech is known as “The Staff”. The nickname was a veiled reference to the perception that the executives did not act as a team.  This perception was not lost on Kathryn, the newly appointed CEO. The executive team is the canvas upon which Lencioni paints the five dysfunctions of a team.  The members of The Staff are:

  • Former CEO – Jeff Stanley is the former CEO that has stayed on as the business development lead.  Jeff  is described as knowing Silicon Valley and being a networking maven. Jeff had raised most the early money for the firm and hired most of the executives.  He was a force within the organization. Kathryn feels that he was not a manager, but that his heart was in the right place.
  • Marketing  – Mikey is that brand-building genius ,but “lacked a few key social graces.” Kathryn feels that Mikey is unaware that people saw her rough edges and that how that negatively impacted her effectiveness.
  • Chief Technologist – Martin is the person that sits in the meeting with his laptop open apparently not paying attention, but providing a sarcastic commentary. Martin’s style of interaction is wearing on his peers and staff (the rank and file) of the organization. I have known many a Martin in my career; technically brilliant but a wearing on the organization’s’ morale.
  • Sales – JR is the guy that always says ‘yes’ to everything that is needed, but rarely follows through. Whenever anyone calls him on dropping the ball he apologizes profusely. JR’s saving grace is the long track record of sales success before he came to DecisionTech.
  • Customer Support – Carlos is solid. He listens, he participates when needed, He is self-deprecating, always saying something constructive while downplaying his prior accomplishments.  Carlos works long hours and is a solid guy. Kathryn doesn’t believe she will have to worry about Carlos. 
  • CFO – Jen is the money person and is a “stickler” for detail.  Jan raised a significant amount of the money needed to get the company started. Her fiscal discipline allowed the board to give the rest of the staff free reign because Jan would keep them under control.
  • COO – Nick had a great resume, however, the COO role is ill-defined.  The lack of role definition led Nick to be frustrated because he did not view his work a very meaningful.  He kept the frustration bottled up.  On top of the nebulous role, Nick felt he was the only one in the firm qualified to be CEO and that his colleagues were inferior to him.

On the surface, members of “The Staff” seem to present most possible problems that a team could face. In Part Two the problems begin to surface.

Part Two

Part Two begins to present the problems that indicate that members of The Staff were not working well together. Remember that in week 1 Kathryn announced that after observing she was going to hold a series of offsite meetings to set a direction. The offsite meetings were a cornerstone of Kathryn’s change process. Early in my career, a subsidiary of a firm I worked for brought in a turnaround specialist.  The first day he required everyone in the company to physically move their desk from one side the space they were into the other.  His goal was to send a message that from then on, nothing would be the same. I view the offsite in the same vein.

First Test

The first direct test of Kathryn’s authority came in the form of an email from Martin.  He indicated that he had gotten a great opportunity to sell DecisionTech’s product to another firm and would be away from the office for a few days.  He did not acknowledge that he would have to miss part of the offsite, exacerbating the clash with Kathryn. Instead of responding by email Kathryn met with Martin face-to-face and delivered the message that he should reschedule and not miss the meeting.  After a bit of back and forth, Martin decided to stop fighting but not to drop the issue.  The first test highlighted passive aggressive behavior both in terms of Martin not addressing the conflict and then pretending to agree but in reality not to drop this issue.

End Run

Martin leveraged the old-boys network and cornered Jeff in the parking lot to enlist his help. Jeff asked Kathryn to lunch in order to broach the subject of the value of Martin attending a customer meeting versus Kathryn’s internal meeting. Kathryn sent a message by stating she was OK with Jeff disagreeing and discussing it face-to-face; however, she was in charge of the organization now. In a similar manner instead of directly dealing with the conflict, Jeff (like Martin) disengaged to “fight again another day”. Jeff’s behavior still ended in a passive aggressive manner.  Kathryn knew that The Staff was very broken.

The End Run sets the stage for the Napa offsite, which we will address next week.  However, through the combination of the staff descriptions and the first two tests of her leadership Lencioni paints the picture of a highly dysfunctional team and foreshadows significant headaches.

Three quick take-ups:

  1.   Email is not a great tool to use when disagreeing with your boss.
  2.   Not dealing with issues when they occur leads to passive aggressive behavior.
  3.   Hiding behind a computer in meetings and sniping is not a great way to win friends and influence people. 

Previous Installments in the re-read of  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni:

Week 1 – Introduction through Observations