I recently reread Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In Lencioni’s book, five common shortfalls of teams are highlighted. These characteristics resonated with teams across the world which contributed to Lencioni’s book becoming a New York Times, Business Week, Wall Street Journal and USA Today best seller. Even professional sports teams identified with the five dysfunctions resulting in several NFL teams applying the concepts to improve their teamwork. As our profession goes through substantial change, and the increased need for teams to grow our firms (not rugged individualist), I thought it was timely to write a brief recap of the five dysfunctions.
According to Lencioni’s book, the five dysfunctions are:
Absence of Trust. Trust can be difficult to achieve in the professional setting because we are often taught that in the world of business, competition is key. However, when teams have a low-level of trust, they spend more energy on politics and guarding their personal interests than they spend on achieving the goals of the team. Having a high-level of trust is not about trusting the quality of someone’s work, it’s trusting that their intentions are good. When teams are unable to be vulnerable with one another, it can be difficult to improve. Lencioni mentions several recommendations for starting to improve trust including; understanding an individual’s personal history, sharing with the individual what you perceive their strengths to be, knowing their personality, completing a 360-degree evaluation and even team exercises (e.g. rope courses).
Fear of Confrontation. Many individuals view conflict as negative. However, high-performing teams view conflict as a strength and look for opportunities to benefit from opposing viewpoints. One of the key differences between good conflict and bad conflict is that good conflict is goal oriented. That is to say, the conflict may be about opposing opinions but both opinions are focused on the same goal. Bad conflict typically becomes personal and the intentions of one of the parties has a different motive for the conflict. Successful teams must retrain their brains to view conflict as a positive and not something to shy away from. Lencioni recommends that teams “dig for disagreements”, give permission to engage in conflict and remind one another that conflict is a good thing.
Lack of Commitment. A team is at a disadvantage when members of the team are not committed to the team’s goals. In order for a team to be fully committed, according to Lencioni, members need to fully understand and support the goals the team is trying to achieve. To do this, it’s imperative that each member of the team has an opportunity to hear the “why” behind the team’s goals. This process will gain consensus with each member. The team must also understand that making a decision is better than not making a decision at all. The team should focus on progress, not perfection. Having a reliable approach is better than no approach.
As teams pursue their goals, it’s important for the leader of the team to clearly set deadlines and communicate those deadlines to each individual. Sending out wrap up notes after meetings and having discussions regarding “what if” scenarios will keep the entire team engaged and feeling that the team is on the right track. This is an effort that needs to be consistent throughout the life of the team.
Avoidance of Accountability. Team members need to hold each other accountable. If a team is not good at holding each other accountable, they are less likely to achieve their goals. Teams should regularly update one another on the progress of goals. This could be done individually or in team meetings. Regular updates will require team members to accurately show their progress. Also, teams should be awarded and recognize as a whole, not individually. Team awards support the idea that each team member is relying on the other. Teams aren’t the place for focusing on individual achievements.
Inattention to Results. Similar to accountability, it’s imperative each team member understands that the team’s achievements are the top priority. Each team member should publicly commit to the achieving the results of the team and put their desire for individual results aside. Team members should ask themselves if their individual actions are supporting the goals of the team. If they aren’t, then the individual needs to change course. A leader can play the role of aligning individual efforts to a team’s desired result.
If your firm focuses on addressing these five dysfunctions of a team, you will be more equipped to take on the challenges that arise and ultimately achieve your desired goals. No team is perfect and identifying when and how to improve is imperative. If your firm doesn’t address these five dysfunctions, your team will be undermined and less likely to succeed.