Why I read it
I really enjoyed Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage, and have since read some of his other works, and listened to interviews and podcasts featuring his words of wisdom. Since beginning my research project on teams, I had to check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – a unique take on teamwork which begins with what usually goes wrong.
Lencioni is known for writing leadership fables – fictionalised accounts of workplaces that have a narrative and a moral and intellectual purpose to them. In this case, he creates the fable of Kathryn Petersen, a new CEO drafted in to rescue a failing company; throughout her time with DecisionTech, Kathryn employs the five key principles of the Dysfunctions model. I was initially skeptical about the fictionalised case study, and yet I found it insightful and fascinating, as the other characters reacted to Kathryn’s ideas – a range of employees both accepted and rejected her work – we see the best and worst of teams and human choices in the fable. At the end of the book, Lencioni outlines the model in a more objective, theoretical way – the combination of the two creates a tangible, easy-to-interpret team model.
Here is the model for the five dysfunctions of teams:
The book outlines the issues, how they stem from the foundational base of absence of trust, and then shows how Kathryn (who I feel like I know, now!) over comes each in turn with a set of practical strategies and conversations.
For this book reflection, I’ll go through each of the 5 dysfunctions in turn, outlining the trap, and then how to get free!
1. Absence of trust: teams who lack trust tend to hide how they feel, mistakes, failures, and do not participate in debate. This can lead to holding back information, unproductive meetings, and not seeing the best in each other.
2. Fear of conflict: a lack of trust leads to fear of conflict. Without a healthy culture of conflict, difficult issues are often avoided, and staff try to minimise any risk to their reputation or performance. This often leads to a lack of innovation, creativity, and collaboration. Meetings are dull, safe, and not worth having.
3. Lack of commitment: when teams become conflict-avoidant, they begin to fear potential mistakes or failure. There are a couple of issues with this, beginning with a lack of desire to commit to ideas or project through the fear that it may not work out. Secondly, if an idea is put forward by a leader, if the team is low in trust and conflict, they might not commit simply because they didn’t get the chance to discuss or contribute towards it from the outset.
4. Avoidance of accountability: If you were unable or unwilling to commit to an idea, the chances are you won’t give it your all. This could lead to lower standards. Secondly, if people still fear conflict and don’t trust one another, they are less likely to hold each other to account.
5. Inattention to results: finally, if you haven’t been fully invested in something, and haven’t developed it as a group during its life cycle, it’s difficult to analyse the results in a meaningful way. Team members are much more likely to focus on their own, individual goals and results, rather than those of the wider team.
As the book sets out, there is a way to combat these dysfunctions and it all starts with trust. Leaders must model vulnerability, invite feedback, create a dynamic of psychological safety, decouple fear and failure, and change feedback culture. Staff must be encouraged to engage in conflict regarding tasks, processes, successes and failures. Meetings should be a compelling environment to debate, share, and engage with each other. Only then will the team be able to progress up the pyramid, and commit to ideas, hold each other accountable, and scrutinise how they can improve results as a team.
Throughout the fable, Kathryn tries out something to enhance her team’s work. At almost every step, there is a combination of progress and pitfalls. The case study is wonderfully realistic – no leader can turn everyone’s mind around. Some will instantly buy into a way of working, others will take more time, and some never will. Lencioni isn’t promising a silver bullet, here. Kathryn is diligent, emotionally intelligent, and shrewd, yet she faces both success and failure along the journey.
‘Kathryn paused for effect before delivering her next line. “Let me assure you that from now on, every meeting we have will be loaded with conflict. And they won’t be boring. And if there is nothing worth debating, then we won’t have a meeting.”’
Here are some questions for you to reflect on regarding your own teams:
- Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
- Are team meetings compelling and productive?
- Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
- Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
- Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?
Read this if:
You are a team leader
You want to create effective team culture
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