The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Cover

The “Book” during unboxing!

Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni:  Re-Read Week 6

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.

This week, we get are exposed to Lencioni’s whole model of team dysfunctions. Lencioni continues to illustrate the model through a series of problems and crises that make the DecisionTech team into a dysfunctional collection of individuals.

Deep tissue

Reacting to the confusion generated when the group began discussing goals, Kathryn opens the chapter by announcing that she understands the underlying problem.  Goals must reflect the organizational results instead of individual recognition.  In order to be a team, everyone needs to adopt a set of common goals and measurements, and just as importantly to use those goals and measures to make collective decisions on a daily basis.  The observation that organizations have goals but do not use them is not that rare.  I have observed (and participated in) countless meetings that begin and end without seriously referencing the goals of the meeting.  I use the term “seriously” because I don’t think a random question about whether the team is meeting their goals count.  This behavior is not constrained to meeting rooms; I recently was asked to observe a Scrum stand-up meeting, and after watching the team go through the ubiquitous three questions, I asked whether the team was going to look at their burndown chart. One brave team member ventured that they only looked at “that” on the last day of the sprint and that everyone just does the best they can do to get their stories completed. The goals instantiated in the burndown chart were not really the team’s goals.

Each person on DecisionTech’s executive team (I am using the term loosely) expected everyone else to do their own job independently.  Because the focus was on doing their own thing and not sharing progress toward their goals! there were no impetuous to shift resources to facilitate achieving organizational goals over individual goals. This type of behavior can cause individuals within a group to feel cut-off and isolated from the larger group. Everyone in the Scrum team mentioned earlier, in essence, had their own backlog and goals and therefore was incented to act as if they were a team of one within a larger team, leading them to ignore the higher-level goals of the team.

Team-level politics is another natural outcome as individuals compete for resources and recognition.  Kathryn identifies this negative type of politics as a symptom she has observed within the executive team. In The Five Dysfunctions, politics is defined as “when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”  Martin punctuates the section with an admission that “we’re definitely political.”


The discussion of refocusing  the team on organizational rather than personal goals lead the team to a fork in the road where they either had to begin accepting Kathryn’s ideas or to attack them. When an organization is facing a change, lack of resistance does not always indicate acceptance, but rather may indication passivity in which change is only made on the surface.  As a change agent, I had to learn the lesson the hard way.  Early in my career, I was leading a process improvement effort for a testing group.  We had laid out the plans and process to get the testers and developers to work more closely together (an early version of ATTD).  I should have known better at the presentation we got lots of nodding heads and zero resistance.  Lots of nodding heads didn’t indicate buy-in; the process improvement was only tacitly accepted and when the first project timeline got tight the changes went out the window.

In the book, JR leads the challenge to Kathryn’s plan by pushing her to share the other dysfunctions rather than waiting for the next off-site in three weeks.


The base of the model, as we have noted, is the absence of trust.  Teams without trust fear the conflict that comes from challenging and holding each other accountable. Fear of conflict is the next part of the model.  Teams that fear conflict seek to preserve a false sense of harmony (Lencioni call this ‘artificial harmony’). Lack of trust and the need to preserve harmony stops team members from engaging in open, constructive ideological conflict. The conflict that leads to goals and directions that the team can execute is worth the time and avoids the time need later when things go wrong and need to be sorted out.

The next step in the model is a lack of commitment.  Teams that lack commitment generally fail to buy into decisions.  This leads to ambiguity in the team’s direction and goals. One of the causes for the  lack of commitment is that team members do not get their issues and problems heard when the direction is being set or decisions are being made. Teams shouldn’t just listen to issues and problems to generate consensus (defined as an attempt to please everyone which usually turns into displeasing everyone equally), but rather to generate engagement. Consensus can lead to a type of paralysis generated as teams try to attain a complete agreement.  Hearing everyone’s issues and problems during decision making but then agreeing to follow a single direction allows an unambiguous direction to be set and decisions to be made so that everyone can commit (or get out of the way).

The next dysfunction is the avoidance of accountability, which is shown by low standards. This dysfunction builds on the previous dysfunctions: lack of trust, fear of conflict and lack of commitment. Without trust it very difficult to hold each other accountable for the commitments to the organization and toeach other. Mikey ended the day by saying “that makes sense, this actually makes sense.”

Three quick takeaways:

  •         Goals and measurement only have power if people use them to provide direction and make decisions.
  •         Resistance is not futile, but can be an indication of engagement.
  •         Dysfunctions build on each other.

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

Week 5 – Awareness through Goals