Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

It is nearly 2017!  Today we complete the re-read portion of the Re-Read Saturday for The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, Copyright 2002, 33rd printing).  This installment covers the section titled Understanding and Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions. This section is the most hands-on portion of the book and I suggest spending time with the wide range of ideas Lencioni peppers throughout this section. Note that there are three very short sections that follow the Understanding and Overcoming section. They are interesting reads; however, I will leave them to you to review.  Next week we will conclude this Re-Read with final thoughts.

One last call for votes for the next book.  The poll for the next book is below. I have identified three books, including re-reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset, Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman) and Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).   I have also had suggestions (in the other category) for Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (Adam Grant) and Management Lessons from Taiichi Ohno: What Every Leader Can Learn from the Man by Takehiko Harada.  I would like your opinion.  (PS In the case of a tie, I will choose)

Understanding and Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions

This chapter follows a pattern of providing more detail on each dysfunction, then provides some suggestions for overcoming the dysfunctions, and finally advice for leaders.

Dysfunction 1: Absence of Trust

The absence of trust forms the base of the model; without trust teamwork is impossible.  Lencioni defines trust from the point of view of the team. It is based on the confidence of team members that their peers have good intentions and there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.  Lencioni describes this definition of trust as vulnerability-based trust. Vulnerability-based trust flies in the face off winner-take-all politics taught by popular culture and some business schools.  Trust is a core attribute of a good team. For those that have studied Maslow’s Hierarchy, you can replace physiological needs with trust. None of the other dysfunctions can be tackled until you deal with trust issues.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 1:

Vulnerability-based trust is often best developed when teams work together closely and share experiences over a period of time.  Teams that learn to rely on each other through multiple instances of delivery with follow-through build credibility. I’ve often said that working side-by-side with a group people overnight to achieve a goal generates very tight relationships.

Lencioni provides a number of exercises to help address this dysfunction including:

  • personal histories exercise,
  • team effectiveness exercise personality,
  • behavior preferences profiles, and
  • 360° feedback sessions.

Exercises and tools are useful; however, a good work crisis where team members are working together to solve the problem is even better. If you are going to use exercises as part of the solution for this dysfunction always follow up with reinforcement with real-life work activities that build trust.

Advice for leaders:

Leaders can’t artificially create situations to develop trust. Team members will see through it, and the leader will lose credibility.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict

Some amount of productive conflict helps to mature relationships.  The problem is that many in the corporate world either have a tendency or are taught to avoid conflict.  Fear of conflict is highly related to a lack of trust.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 2:

The recognition and acknowledgment that engaging in healthy conflict is productive is the first step at overcoming dysfunction 2. Lencioni suggests a number of methods for making conflict more productive including mining for disagreements, providing real-time permission to disagree and other tools. The goal of all of these is to find conflict, expose it, and get it into a productive discussion.

Advice for leaders:

Leaders need to avoid being part of the problem by shutting down productive conflict to protect team members. Not letting conflicts come to a natural conclusion will cause the issues to fester and become bigger. Fear of conflict is directly linked to lack of trust, the combination of the first two dysfunctions create an environment in which team members will have a hard time committing to decisions.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment

Lencioni defines commitment as a function of clarity and buy-in. Good teams make clear, timely decisions, and then move forward as a complete unit.  This is even though some team members may have originally disagreed with the decision. Consensus and need for certainty can cause teams to fail to make decisions or generate scenarios in which team members don’t buy-in.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 3:

Teams need to ensure that everyone is heard and their input is considered before a decision is made.  When a decision is made, even if it’s made by the leader for the team, everyone needs to rally together.  Not everyone needs to agree with the decision, but they must support it once made.  I once had a manager whose staff meetings were often loud and contentious. His only rule was once we left the room we all had to support the decisions made (on pain of being fired). Reliance on consensus is a reflection of a fear of conflict, which is built on a lack of trust.

Lencioni suggests that making a decision is better than not making a decision. Waffling and putting off important decisions until you have certainty can cause paralysis. No making decisions can also destroy team confidence.  When team confidence is shattered, teams fall apart.  There are several techniques included for overcoming dysfunction 3.  The techniques provide a path for making decisions or for illustrating what will happen if decisions are not made and supported.

Advice for leaders:

A leader must push teams to make and/or follow decisions.  Leaders need to be comfortable with making and shaping decisions even if the decision being made may occasionally be wrong. Teams that don’t commit find it very difficult to hold each other accountable (dysfunction 4).

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Accountability

Accountability in this circumstance is the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.  It is easy to see how each of the earlier dysfunctions can lead team members to avoid holding other accountable.  Holding team members accountable is uncomfortable and nearly impossible without a commitment to team goals and decisions.  

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunction 4:

As with the other dysfunctions, Lencioni provides a number of techniques for overcoming dysfunction 4.  The one I find the most useful is substituting individual rewards for team-based rewards.  Team rewards incent everyone to row together. 

Advice for leaders:

Managers often struggle with team members holding other team members accountable.  Agile recognizes that teams members holding each other accountable is a core practice that makes self-management possible. Leaders need to allow themselves to take a step back and allow team members to be the primary mechanism to channel peer pressure to guide behavior.

Dysfunction 4 is often the reason why Agile teams fail.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results

Ultimate dysfunction in Lencioni’s model is the tendency of team members to care about something other than the collective goals of the group.  Putting individual goals ahead of the team’s goals ends up generating an environment where organizational failure is acceptable.  The holistic goals of the organization have to be put first or you risk the doors closing.

Suggestions for overcoming Dysfunctional 5:

Lencioni suggests techniques like a public declaration of the results or implementing result-based rewards.  Focusing on results makes sure that the team knows what is important and gets public feedback on their performance. The public declaration of goals and results also makes it more difficult for teams or individuals to abandon the organization’s goals.

Advice for leaders:

Set the tone for the group. Eschew chasing individual and team status.

As noted earlier, the book includes two more sections:

  •         A Note About Time: Kathryn’s Methods

Spending time together is important for teams.  Spending time together limits confusion and minimizes added communication.

  •         A Special Tribute to Teamwork

This small section points out that the first responders during events of 9/11 2001 shows how teamwork is supposed to work.

Three key takeaways:

  1.    Exercises are a great way to teach theory, but practical application makes it stick.
  2.    Build trust or nothing else will work for long.
  3.    Experiment with ideas to overcome dysfunctions and measure their impact on RESULTS.

Next week we will explore a few final notes on Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions.

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

Week 6 – Deep Tissue through Exhibition

Week 7 – Film Noir through Application

Week 8 – On-site through Fireworks

Week 9 – Leaks through Plowing On

Week 10 – Accountability through The Talk

Week 11 – Last Stand through Rally

Week 12 – Harvest through The March

Week 13 – Model Overview through Team Assessment