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. As we move through the first part of the book we are being exposed to Lencioni’s model of team dysfunctions and a set of crises to illustrate the common problems that make teams into dysfunctional collections of individuals.


Next to the base of the five-stage model titled absence of trust (introduced in the section titled “The Speech”)  Kathryn wrote the term invulnerability. People that have trust are willing to show their vulnerability to others on the team. Without trust, people put up a wall so they appear invulnerable which impedes communication and sharing need to create a functional team.  Kathryn describes the next exercise that will help the group to demonstrate showing vulnerability in a safe environment.

The exercise: Each person on the team will take five minutes to identify their single biggest strength and weakness related to their involvement at DecisionTech. Answers that with strengths that were over self-deprecating or included generic weaknesses were not allowed. The expectation is that each person will expose themselves to the rest of the group. Once the five minutes are up, each person will debrief with the rest of the group.

Nick began the debrief process.  He was open and honest in his strengths and weakness, and he listened to his teammate’s comments and critiques. It took trust for the group to be able to talk honestly about how they felt.

When Mikey shared, her strengths and weakness were shallow, showing a lack of trust in the group.  There was no interaction and comments from the rest the team.  Mikey’s lack of participation let the air out of the exercise.

Martin went last and noted that his weakness was that he gave the appearance of arrogance. This sparked a discussion until Mikey squashed it noting that he would not be about to change without years of psychotherapy and that perhaps he was just hardwired to be arrogant. Kathryn didn’t call her on the remark, which was foreshadowed as a mistake.


Kathryn shifts the focus from the base of the model to the top of the pyramid.   In the space at the top of the pyramid, she writes the phrase “Inattention to Results”.  Dysfunctional teams fail to focus on collective results because individuals are honing their own egos and chasing individual status.  Functional teams deliver collective results. Everyone has egos; however, on a team, the collective ego has to be greater than the individual ones.  Over the years, I have watched Lebron James (power forward on the Cleveland Cavilers basketball team) mature and learn that an individual virtuoso can’t win if the team isn’t more than a collection of talented individuals.  When the results of the overall team define success, it is difficult for individual egos to get out of hand.

The book uses the example of Kathryn’s husband who coaches high school basketball.  He focuses on getting the team to be and play like a team which allows him to win consistently, even though the individuals are probably not as talented many individuals on the teams they play against.

One of the many important concepts in this section is that the goal of the leader is not to shepherd individual careers, but rather to get the most out of the team.

The section is capped off with a discussion of why sports provide a good training ground and metaphor for the concept of team.  The goal of a sport to unambiguously win. The score provides unambiguous proof of whether a team is successful. Scores also provide continuously updated and transparent feedback to everyone participating during the game so that there is no surprise when the game ends. Profit, which is the ultimate goal of for-profit organizations, is very difficult to use as a motivational tool because it is only known at the end of a reporting period. I classify profit as a rearview mirror type of measure; it tells you where have been but not necessarily where you are going. Profit is important, but a team needs other goals that more actionable. More actionable goals will be more like a score from a sporting event 


Goals are an important tool to focus attention and energy.  For a goal to be effective it needs to be actionable.  In an effort to identify more actionable goals, Kathryn leads another exercise.

Exercise: Break the group into subgroups of two or three people.  I recommend that the subgroups are cross-functional (note: in the book the subgroups are cross-functional because each person in the group is focused on different areas of the company). Have the subgroup propose a list of categories that the organization should have results-focused goals. In this exercise just create categories.  After the subgroups develop a list of categories, debrief and discuss with the whole group to develop a set of categories that represents a consensus amongst the whole team.

The DecisionTech executives identify 15 categories that they decide to measure on a monthly basis. As the discussion becomes more focused on the team’s day-to-day work, people fell back into their typical dysfunctional behavior.  The book uses the example of the team discussing the public relationship category.  In this category, goals and measures existed, however, most of the executive team either did not know they existed or didn’t understand them or . When the discussion got heated (with Mikey defending and deflecting criticism), the team shut down instead of getting to the crux of the problem. The section ends with Kathryn’s thought “so this is how it works.” We end on another cliffhanger!

Three quick take-ups:

  1.       Don’t let bad attitudes fester!
  2.       Team ego and success is more important than individual egos and success.
  3.       Goals should provide actionable feedback.

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

Week 4 – Entering Danger though Rebound