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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - Book Summary

By: Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Book Cover
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is another of Patrick Lencioni's exceptionally readable books on leadership and team development. In keeping with his style, the book takes the reader on a journey of team formation told through the eyes of a new CEO joining a dysfunctional leadership team and the actions she takes to change the team dynamic.

The book sets out five dysfunctions that afflict teams and the impact these have on an organisation.

In the book, the dysfunctions are a pyramid, in the following order – from the foundation to the top – they are:

  1. Absence of trust: the team doesn't have trust in each other. This leads team members to seek to be invulnerable, to avoid risks rather than being willing to take risks and potentially fail but to learn. Does your team know and trust each other? Have you gone for drinks together? Do you know where people are coming from? Hometown? The number of kids? Interesting hobbies? Childhood stories? What was the biggest challenge growing up? First job? A lack of trust directly undermines the opportunity for individuals in the organisation to learn.

  2. Fear of conflict: with the absence of trust comes a fear of conflict. When the group isn't willing to debate about an issue. The artificial harmony this creates leads to the group not discussing important issues, with everyone trying to please everyone or not disagreeing. This undermines the development of ideas and prevents people from clarifying actions and commitments. It needs to be replaced by the idea of "disagree and commit".

  3. Lack of commitment: the result of a fear of conflict. Conflict is important to let people get their views on the table, and then individuals must commit. At the end of the discussion, everyone must buy into the final action. The result is ambiguity, confusion over what the team is working towards, and unclear objectives.

  4. Avoidance of accountability: the lack of commitment leads to an avoidance of accountability. Peer groups don't tend to call each other out when tasks are dropped or deadlines are not met. If that doesn't happen, you can't perform at your best. The result is low standards. People must learn what is expected from them and aren't held to those standards. Often this leads to a culture of retrospective censure.

  5. Inattention to results: the avoidance of accountability is a lack of focus on results. Results are the collective goals of the entire team clear to everyone (these are the organisation's goals - what it's trying to achieve) - e.g. a football team is clear about its goal, winning the game. Without a focus on the collective results, status and ego creep in, and everyone is working to advance their personal objectives and desires. Teams work when everyone is willing to work for the team's goal.

Addressing these challenges is not simple; in the story, Lencioni's protagonist needs to challenge, convince, motivate and remove barriers to team performance. Central to this process is an emphasis on communication. Repeat, repeat, and repeat your message. Communicating change in behaviours is not straightforward, and if you want your team all on the same page, you need to repeat the message constantly. You are probably never communicating enough.

Lencioni further emphasises the importance of securing buy-in and commitment to the same objective. "People aren't going to hold each other accountable if they haven't clearly bought into the same plan. Otherwise, it seems pointless because they're just going to say, I never agreed to do that anyway'" (Lencioni, p.99). Buy-in only comes through a culture of trust and challenge. It is incumbent on the leader to create this environment, to call out negative behaviours and challenge politics where they seem them emerging.

"Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think" (Lencioni, p.88). Creating a 'no-politics' culture is the main message of the Five Dysfunctions of a team. In a "no-politics" culture, people know what they are accountable for, they know they will be held to account and challenged if they fall behind. Equally, they know its safe to fight, to disagree about a problem because that's what makes the team better. Challenging but doable.


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