The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable  by Patrick Lencioni

I’ve read this book several times since its release, and again most recently.  These ideas/concepts aren’t new nor are they mine-yet, the bold truth within them is reason to share-again.  Here I have summarized and quoted from the book.  I’ve also added some commentary based on my experience.  Those comments are in italics.  Personally I’ve learned a great deal from this read and it helped me understand as a leader that I am responsible for company culture – one interaction at a time.

The framework of the 5 Dysfunctions: Summary leadership-teams-successful

  1. Absence of trust. This happens when team members are not open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses.  Trust lies at the heart of a functioning cohesive team. Without it, teamwork is impossible.   Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers intentions are good and that there is no reason to be protective around the group.   Absence of trust is a disease.  I’ve seen executive level leadership spend much of their time posturing themselves and their message for superiors because if they just spoke the truth- consequence would come.  Nevertheless, this team failed year after year in meeting their goals. Leadership dictates culture, one interaction at a time, and there are plenty of amazing leaders who build cultures and lead people without being in a shroud of mistrust or secrecy.
    • Members of teams with an absence of trust:
      • Conceal weaknesses and mistakes
      • Spend inordinate amounts of time and energy managing their behavior and interactions with the group
      • Dread meetings, hold grudges, hesitate to ask for help
  1. Fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are unable to engage in unfiltered and passionate debate. Instead they resort to veiled discussions and private commentary.   For us extremely direct communicators- this is a real challenge.  The most productive teams I’ve been a part of were teams where meetings and decision making were close to bar brawls. That’s how passionate these people were about the goals and results of the team.  If no one is fighting, there’s a problem.    
    • Teams that have a fear of conflict
      • Have boring and unproductive meetings
      • Create environments where back channel politics and personal attacks thrive
      • Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
      • Waste time with posturing and interpersonal risk management
  1. Lack of commitment. Without airing opinions in the course of passionate and open debate- team members rarely buy into and commit to decisions.  Leaders can make all decisions they want, think they have consensus, but as soon as they walk out of the room, the “buy in” goes with them.  Your team will do what you want because you’re the boss; the trick is to get them to do what is needed because they believe in it.  So many leaders are dropping the ball in getting buy in from teams.  
    • Teams that fail to commit
      • Create ambiguity about direction and priorities
      • Watch the window of opportunity close due to excessive analysis
      • Encourage second guessing
      • Create environments of excuses “it’s the market, not us”
      • Breed a lack of confidence and fear of failure
  1. Avoidance of accountability. Without committing to a real plan, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.  In most cases, its leaders who aren’t held accountable. The people at the front lines or middle management seem to face the accountability measure, but the CEO, EVP and President avoid it.  On the other side, I’ve been in meetings where people are just called right out by their team mates. It is always the greatest deterrent for poor behavior.  Members of high functioning teams won’t let others debunk an effort to reach a goal.
    • Teams who avoid accountability
      • Encourage mediocrity
      • Miss deadlines and key deliverables
      • Place the burden of discipline solely on leadership
      • Create resentment among team members who have different performance standards
  1. Inattention to results. This is where ego, career development, and recognition take precedence over results and the good of the team.  Leaders who can keep focused on the result of an effort by a team rather than an individual are more likely to see better results.  I have seen the most driven and incredibly smart individuals take down a whole team because they were concerned about what their own departments were reporting rather than doing what’s right for the entire division.  
    • Teams where there are no attention to results
      • Fail to grow
      • Rarely defeat competitors
      • Lose achievement oriented employees
      • Become easily distracted
      • Encourage individuals to focus on their own career development

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a must read for leaders who not only need, but WANT a sanity check.   For those in the ivory tower, making decisions in silos, blaming others for missing the number- some of your answers might be in this book. Each time I read this book I learn something new about my own leadership style and can better reflect on successes and failures of the past.   Sometimes the problem isn’t always so obvious or it is and no one wants to talk about it.   

Patrick Lencioni is a New York Times best-selling author, speaker, consultant and founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to helping organizations become healthy. Lencioni’s ideas around leadership, teamwork and employee engagement have impacted organizations around the globe. His books have sold nearly three million copies worldwide.