Five Dysfunctions of Teams

  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a bestselling business book by Patrick Lencioni. It describes the many challenges that teams face as they seek to “row together”. This book details the primary reasons of organizational politics and team failure.

It is crystal clear how these dysfunctions can negatively affect an organizations performance. I believe in Asia these dysfunctions can be magnified when we factor in local cultural behaviors such as “saving face”  “krieng jai” or even the strong belief in “fate”. If you are interested to see how we can eliminate (or at least reduce) these dysfunctions in your organization – please contact us at Big Picture.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team supports a very direct approach, and although this may be easily adapted for our Western colleagues, the reserved diplomacy of the East makes this concept all the more powerful.

I am sure we agree with the base concept of “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.
To get the people in a team aligned and rowing in the same direction requires leaders to address the following five dysfunctions of a team.

Dysfunction 1: Absence of Trust
The first dysfunction is the absence of trust between team members. The type of trust the author is talking about here is the ability of group members to show their weaknesses, to be vulnerable and open with one another. Trust is never generated in teams when the team members are not prepared to be vulnerable. Instead they feel the need to be right, to be strong and competent, so much that they are unable to be vulnerable and open with one another. Trust requires that team members have confidence in each other intentions, that they are good and therefore have no reason to be protective and careful in the team.

Leadership must create an environment where it’s safe to be vulnerable.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict
Trust is the base of excellent teams and it’s trust that makes team conflict possible. Teams become dysfunctional when they are unable to deal with conflict in a productive manner. All important relationships (personal & professional) require positive conflict for them to grow. Positive conflict happens when people talk about the issue at hand and do so with avoiding personal insults or attacks, with the goal of finding the best solution for the team. Teams tend to avoid conflict often replacing it with an artificial harmony.
Harmony itself is good, I suppose, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict. But if it comes only as a result of people holding back their opinions and honest concerns, then it’s a bad thing.”
We put on a smiling face and try to be nice to everyone. But when we have this positive conflict teams become truly functional allowing for meaningful dialogue where people are open to share, without feeling afraid of attacks or criticism. We must avoid having a team of  “yes men” at all costs.

It’s critical to learn positive conflict resolution skills so we can truly be a “team” ant just a group of individuals.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment
As a result of productive conflict teams can commit and truly buy-in to decisions. A lack of commitment comes from not hearing all the teams concerns before making a decision. There can be no commitment without debate. People will not support an idea when their opinions and thoughts on the matter were not heard and discussed. “If they don’t weigh in, then they won’t buy in.” This does not mean you need consensus; it is just making sure that everyone is heard.
“The point here is that most reasonable people don’t have to get their way in a discussion. They just need to be heard, and to know that their input was considered and responded to.”
At the end of the day everyone needs to get to the point where they can say, “I may not agree with your ideas but I understand them and can support them.”
“When people don’t unload their opinions and feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Accountability
Once you have achieved team commitment you are prepared to create accountability. If the team is to be accountable, everyone must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.
“People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t clearly bought in to the same plan.”
At the end of the day it’s about each team member being accountable to the team. This means that a team member never lets the team down when is comes to meeting commitments. The team needs to hold their peers responsible for achieving results and working to high standards. It’s the responsibility of each team member to hold one another accountable and accept it when others hold them accountable.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results
When teams are not held accountable the team members tend to look out for their own interests, rather than the interests of the team. A healthy team places team results as the most important goal. When all team members place the team’s results first the team becomes results orientated.
“Our job is to make the results that we need to achieve so clear to everyone in this room that no one would even consider doing something purely to enhance his or her individual status or ego. Because that would diminish our ability to achieve our collective goals. We would all lose.”
Leaders need to make the teams results clear for all to see, rewarding the behaviors that contribute to the team’s results. It’s the responsibility of the leader to keep the teams focus on results.

As we see in football, basketball, and other teams, the great challenge of any coach is to get the player to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. As excellent leaders we must strive for the same results in our organizations.




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