The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Cover

The “Book” during unboxing!

Today we continue our re-read of the business novel, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, Copyright 2002, 33rd printing). If you do not have a copy of the book, please buy a copy from the link above and read along. We seem to be moving from cliffhanger to cliffhanger over the past few weeks and we shall do so again today. The crisis Lencioni illustrates are common problems that make teams into dysfunctional collections of individuals.

Entering the Danger

When we ended our re-read in Week 3, Martin had checked out of the meeting and was absorbed by this laptop.  In response to Martin’s breach of etiquette, Kathryn states her simple rules for meetings.  The rules are to be present and to participate (I typically add ‘be prepared’ to this simple set of rules). In the ensuing discussion, Mikey states that having a laptop open and on during a meeting is part of the high-tech culture.  Kathryn counters the objection by stating that this is more of a behavioral issue than a technology issue. I frankly have been in meetings where someone is typing away on a phone or laptop, which leads them to fail to pay attention and ask the same question as someone else multiple times even in a short meeting. Having your laptop open sends a message that you are disengaged. In answer to Kathryn’s challenge to his open laptop, Martin acquiesces and closes the laptop.

Getting Naked

After defusing the laptop incident, Kathryn and the team participates in an exercise called “personal histories”, where you tell people about yourself using five questions which are answered one at a time as you go around the room. The goal of the exercise is to begin to build bridges and trust between the Staff.  Sharing, in this case, helps the team to Staff to seem tighter, at least when talking about something less dangerous than work.  Many coaches use these types of tools for team building without recognizing that the gains made while tackling safe topics can erode when teams encounter stressful topics or scenarios.

Going deeper

In order to build on the progress made using the simple personal history technique, the team completes and discusses one of the myriad personality tests (for example, the Myers – Briggs test) as a discussion tool. Kathryn’s goal is to continue to expose each person’s personality to the group so they can build trust. After a discussion, Kathryn gives the group a break to decompress before meeting for cocktails and dinner.

As the team has cocktails and discusses the day, they interact through conversation that includes light banter and ribbing that is often seen among people that are comfortable together. While the majority of the group is participating, Mikey is standoffish. When Nick (and others) suggest the personality test description is accurate, Mikey reacts with derision (eye rolling).  When called on her reaction Mikey goes into a negative tirade about the process that they were going through.  I will admit, that I have gone into the same tirade when these types of tests are used for hiring and firing decisions rather than discussion tools. The discussion and attendant tirade caused Mikey to become even less participative.  Failing to interact during drinks and dinner screamed that that Mikey does not trust her teammates. Note: we have shifted from Martin being the primary purveyor of problems to Mikey.


The dinner meeting ends at 10 with most of the Staff heading back to their rooms.  As they drift back to their rooms Kathryn talked with Mikey.  Mikey’s reaction was a further withdrawal.  Telling Kathryn that she would not let people make fun of her at home so she sure as heck wasn’t going to let people make fun of her work (reacting to the intermural ribbing before dinner). The reaction is a powerful sign that Mikey is keeping the rest of the team at arms’-length. Mikey went on to say that she would not talk about her issues with the process the next day. Mikey’s reaction suggested that she was checking out of the process and she felt that she was outside and more important than the whole of the team.


Kathryn used the beginning of the second day to review and discuss the progress the Staff had made the day before.  Mikey’s participation was limited, and when she talked the energy and the pace of the actively seemed to slow down.  I think we can all recall a scenario in which the tone or phrasing of comment generates a negative environment.  Sarcasm is often used to state a positive in a negative manner.  An hour before lunch, Kathryn what the book describes as, “the most important exercise of the day which would be looked back on as the moment of truth for Mikey and the rest of the team.” – We end on a cliffhanger to hold you until next week. 

We end on another cliffhanger keep you on the edge of your seat until next week!

Three quick take-ups:

  1. In meetings be present, participate, and be prepared!
  2. Everyone on a team needs to trust each other.
  3. No one person on a team is more important than the team.

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

Week 1 – Introduction through Observations

Week 2 – The Staff through the End Run

Week 3 – Drawing the Line though Pushing Back