Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The use of teams to deliver business value are at the core of most business models.  In matrix organizations teams are generally viewed as mutable, being formed and reformed from specialty labor pools to meet specific contexts. Teams can be customized to address emerging needs or critical problems and then fade away gracefully.  Examples of these kinds of teams include red teams or tiger teams.  This approach is viewed as maximizing organizational flexibility in a crisis.  The crisis generates the energy needed to focus the team on a specific problem.  However, as a general approach, dynamic teams have several problems because of how the organizations are structured and how people interact and become teams.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni identified two principles that directly highlight issues with dynamic teams.

  1.       Team members are not easily replaceable parts.
  2.      You can only have primary loyalty to one team.

Each person on a team is a set of behaviors, capabilities, opinions, and biases.  For a team to be effective, the team members need to figure out how to fits all those different components together.  This requires a combination of self-knowledge and knowledge of your colleagues on the team.  When teams are established, members begin the process of learning each other’s biases and capabilities. This is often called team building. For a practical perspective, this knowledge is important for team effectively know how to allocate work and to identify warning signs when problems arise.  Almost all team change models, such as the Tuckman model (storming, norming, and performing), recognize that teams become more effective when they build this type of knowledge. Continually disrupting teams stops teams from becoming more effective.

The second principle that Lencioni raises that directly impacts dynamic teams is loyalty.  In a dynamic team, each team member needs to answer which team do they have primary loyalty towards.  Team members will trust team members from their primary team more than others (boundary biases) and will try not expose attributes of that team that could be perceived negatively.  When the needs of their primary team conflict with the need of their other team, one team will suffer.  It is not hard to guess which will get the short end of the stick.  The effectiveness of the team on the short end will suffer for two reasons.  The first is obvious, their work will either not get done or require others to step in to complete.  Second, team members that are not directly committed to the team will always be suspect. Their peers will always be looking over their shoulder waiting for them to drop the ball.

Even more basic are the cognitive biases which drive human behaviors.  Cognitive biases are patterns of behavior that reflect a deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations. Teams that are always learning the nature and behavior of team members often fall victim to social and attribution biases.  These types of biases reflect errors we make when evaluating the rational for both our own behavior as well as the behavior of others. Team members that misinterpret behavior of other team members make mistakes.  Mistakes reduce team effectiveness and deliver defects which reduce the team’s perceived value setting off a negative spiral.

Dynamic teams driven by matrix management are an anchor that reduces the effectiveness of teams. Creating static teams that can meet organizational needs efficiently and effective is not as simple as declaring that all teams are fixed.  

Next:  Teams need to be constructed to match capabilities to the flow of work.