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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

From the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team; a Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni (I suggest purchasing this book for your library!)

From the Chapter: An Overview of the Model, page 187ff

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust

The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.

Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.   — Lencioni                                                               

The concept of trust amongst teams boils down to vulnerability. It “is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.” This is different from reliance where you might ‘trust’ someone to always do good work based on their track record.

Vulnerability is vital here because it is the indicator that trust is high enough that people are no longer worried about protecting themselves. Most people have difficulty admitting their weaknesses and faults because of the competitive instincts we develop at work. People are constantly trying to protect their reputations, CYA, and cast blame on others when a mistake is made. There are tons of cliches passed off as vital career advice that encourage you to put yourself before others – “look out for number one” and “never let them see you sweat” (5 Dysfunctions Field Guide).

Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy managing behaviors and interactions within the group (5 Dysfunctions).

For trust to work, leaders must not only show vulnerability first, but create an environment that does not punish it.

If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony. –– Lencioni

Lencioni gives the following characteristics to look for in a team:
Members of teams with an absence of trust…

  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Hold grudges
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together

Members of trusting teams…

  • Admit weaknesses and mistakes
  • Ask for help
  • Accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility
  • Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion
  • Take risks in offering feedback and assistance
  • Appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Focus time and energy on important issues, not politics
  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group

So what do you do if your team is dealing with a lack of trust?

Here are some of the suggestions offered.

Personal Histories– Resource from the book. (See separate document.)

Team Effectiveness Exercise– Resource from the book. (See separate document.)

Personality Profiles – Lencioni recommends utilizing the Myers Briggs test. Might also use DISC, Strengths Based Leadership, LPI, etc. (Another shameless plug: Contract with The Higher Calling Coach — just an idea!)

Additional Resources

What Bosses Gain by Being Vulnerable (Harvard Business Review) – “Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing “professional distance and cool” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Opportunities for vulnerability present themselves to us at work every day. Examples she gives of vulnerability include calling an employee or colleague whose child is not well, reaching out to someone who has just had a loss in their family, asking someone for help, taking responsibility for something that went wrong at work, or sitting by the bedside of a colleague or employee with a terminal illness.”

Expressing Your Vulnerability Makes You Stronger (Harvard Business Review) – “By humbling myself with an apology and reaching out to this fellow coach and dad, I realized that I was taking a leadership step that I encourage in my clients. When angry or fearful, step back and be self-reflective. Don’t vilify your boss or co-workers or employees or competitors. Strive to put yourself in the shoes of your perceived adversary. Avoid impulsive statements and actions. Express regret or apology. Gain strength by allowing yourself to be humble and vulnerable.”

Building Trust Inside Your Team – “Open communication is essential for building trust. You need to get everyone on your team talking to one another in an honest, meaningful way, and you can use several strategies to accomplish this.”

The Trust Equation: A Critical Element for Building a High-Performing Team – “So, the Trust Equation: the summation of the three key facets of trust — trust of my integrity plus trust of ethics plus trust of competence.”

11 Ways to Build Trust (Jon Gordon) – “Many of the suggestions you are already know. Many ideas I share are common sense. However, I’ve found that so often amidst the chaos of life and work we forget the simple and powerful truths that matter most. So here are 11 thoughts about trust. Feel free to share these simple reminders with your leaders, colleagues and team.”

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict

The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.

In short, it becomes impossible to hash out an idea based on its merit. It is important to delineate between conflict over concepts and conflict that is personal. Good conflict does not encompass politics, insults, or personal comments. It does include passionate and emotional debate over ideas. Healthy conflict is the happy medium between artificial harmony and mean-spirited personal attacks. Good conflict is not about winning a debate, it is about listening to someone else’s ideas and considering their point of view.

Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal. –Lencioni

Most people avoid this in order to try to keep some sense of harmony. Instead, it results in tension where people are not able to openly speak up. This ends up creating more politics and the formation of cliques.

It’s as simple as this. When people don’t unload their opinions and feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board. –Lencioni

Many companies end up indirectly encouraging this kind of behavior when they throw around cliches like “take that issue offline” or moving something behind closed doors.

This doesn’t mean things are always smooth sailing. Feathers should get ruffled (in the scope of the discussion), but it is the only way to make the best decision to move forward.

Lencioni gives the following characteristics to look for:

Teams that fear conflict…

  • Have boring meetings
  • Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive
  • Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
  • Fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of team members
  • Waste time and energy with posturing and interpersonal risk management

Teams that engage in conflict…

  • Have lively, interesting meetings
  • Extract and exploit the ideas of all team members
  • Solve real problems quickly
  • Minimize politics
  • Put critical topics on the table for discussion

How do you overcome fear of conflict?

Simply identifying what is positive conflict and acknowledging that it is productive can go a long way. It is also important to look for buried disagreements and try to bring them to light. This forces the team to start working through them.

Lencioni recommends looking at the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI).

There is also a Depth-Frequency Conflict Model that gives feedback on how team members assess conflict tendencies and identify areas for improvement. This can be found in the companion volume to the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the  Facilitator’s Field Guide.

Additional Resources

Conflict Keeps Teams at the Top of Their Game (Harvard Business Review) – “if only organizations would spend as much time and effort on making their teams feel “psychologically safe” as they currently do on instructing people to be “team players”, they would likely be far better off as a result. In workplaces where people self-censor for fear of being perceived as negative or incompetent or “not a team player”, collaboration will not come as naturally. Human beings are social animals. And so our priorities may have been wrong all along. We must focus on creating safe spaces for people to express themselves and take risks. If we do this well, teamwork will be a no-brainer by comparison.”

Supporting Healthy Conflict in the Workplace (Forbes) – “It means you have a variety of personality types, each with their own way of approaching problems and solving them to ensure business success. It also means you have team members with vastly different ways of communicating, working within a team, dealing with pressure and even differences in perception of what is a problem and what isn’t.”

The Trouble With Teamwork (Lencioni) – “CEOs who go to great lengths to avoid conflict often do so believing that they are strengthening their teams by avoiding destructive disagreement. This is ironic, because what they are really doing is stifling productive conflict and pushing important issues that need to be resolved under the carpet where they will fester. Eventually, those unresolved issues transform into uglier and more personal discord when executives grow frustrated at what they perceive to be repeated problems. What CEOs and their teams must do is learn to identify artificial harmony when they see it, and incite productive conflict in its place.This is a messy process, one that takes time to master. But there is no avoiding it, because to do so makes it next to impossible for a team to make real commitment.”

NBA Sterling Drama: The Perils of Avoiding Conflict Within Your Team (Inc. Magazine) – “If there’s a latent conflict or tension in your organization, you need to bring it up while it is still latent. Don’t think you’re showing true leadership by pushing it under the carpet. It will come back to bite you, and your organization.”

Pinpointing the True Genius of the San Antonio Spurs’ System – “From top to bottom, San Antonio always employs a stellar coaching staff that isn’t afraid to challenge what Pop says. Sideline reporters might be terrified of his gruff answers during mid-game interviews, but coaches are presumably more scared by what he’ll do if they don’t add to the conversation. Some coaches hire plenty of yes-men as assistant coaches, guys who won’t challenge anything said by the man in charge.”

Inside the Warriors’ dynamics: Steve Kerr’s bunch of brainstorming, laughing, diverse and formidable assistant coaches – ““Alvin sees it from an offensive perspective; Ron sees everything from a defensive perspective,” Kerr said. “I believe Ron would like to win a game 4-2. And I don’t think Alvin would mind winning 138-130.” The sessions are spirited, especially when the season is on the line. But all of the principals say there are no major disagreements, just debate and questions and more debate. As Collins said, if you have a point, you have to be able to defend it.”

Conflict: An Important Dimension in Successful Management Teams – “Unlike C-type conflict, A-type conflict undermines team effectiveness by preventing teams from engaging in the kinds of activities that are critical to team effectiveness. A-type conflict fosters cynicism, distrust, and avoidance, thereby obstructing open communication and integration. When that happens, not only does the quality of solutions decline, but commitment to the team itself erodes because team members no longer associate themselves with the team’s actions.”

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment

The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.

Commitment builds on the first two dysfunctions. You need trust to produce productive conflict. Productive conflict then enables people to commit with clarity and buy-in.
Seeking consensus is a natural inclination but a big mistake. Many times consensus is sought as a form of CYA or a cover for analysis paralysis. People want to get everyone on record as agreeing so that blame can be diffused if something goes wrong. Great teams know that consensus is impossible (and works against productive conflict).

It is better to take input and commit to a course of action – even if there is uncertainty involved – than it is to waffle back and forth. Commitment having clarity and buy-in simply means the removal of assumptions and ambiguities, and honest emotional support. Commitment, in fact, would be buying in even if you don’t agree with a decision (i.e. breaking consensus).

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 .  –Lencioni

This point is vital because it is a primary cause of politics. When people do not feel heard, if a decision fails, they will go around saying, “I told you so.”

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

Lencioni gives the following characteristics to look for:
A team that fails to commit…

  • Creates ambiguity among the team about direction and priorities
  • Watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay
  • Breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure
  • Revisits discussions and decisions again and again
  • Encourages second-guessing among team members

A team that commits…

  • Creates clarity around direction and priorities
  • Aligns the entire team around common objectives
  • Develops an ability to learn from mistakes
  • Takes advantage of opportunities before competitors do
  • Moves forward without hesitation
  • Changes direction without hesitation or guilt

How do you overcome lack of commitment?

The primary technique here is cascading communication. This means leaders must go out and communicate the results to their teams. When forced to explain something to employees, they’ll make sure all concerns are aired (healthy conflict). It also ensures everyone is on the same page. When leaders are on the same page and all go out and communicate the same message, it sends a powerful message to employees.

Setting deadlines for decisions and creating worst-case scenario contingencies also helps create commitment to decisions. The biggest challenge for a leader in this situation is being okay with making a decision that may ultimately be wrong.

Additional Resources

Book Decisive: How To Make Better Choices in Life and Work – This is a book by Chip and Dan Heath that details the villains of decision making and how to overcome them. It is based around what they call the WRAP framework (available on request).

Book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries – This book by Peter Sims is itself a deep dive into the idea of testing ideas at a small scale before fully launching them. Understanding this process creates a much lower barrier to getting commitment by substantially reducing the consequences of failure.

Are You A Collaborative Leader (Harvard Business Review) – “When people try to collaborate on everything, they can wind up in endless meetings, debating ideas and struggling to find consensus.”

The Most Innovative Companies Don’t Worry About Consensus (Harvard Business Review) – “The problem with consensus is that it’s expensive. And while it’s worth the cost of consensus in the pursuit big, bold moves, it’s often crushing to small experimental ones.”

Don’t Make Decisions, Orchestrate Them (Harvard Business Review) – “Every manager needs to make sure that decisions are made and implemented, whether it’s for an entire company or a small team. And while it may seem easier to just make the decisions yourself, in many cases this won’t lead to the best outcome — nor will it increase your team’s capability to make future decisions. The alternative, however, is not to shy away from decisions, but rather to create an orchestrated process by which the right people are engaged, including yourself.”

Don’t Neglect Your Power to Bring People Together (Harvard Business Review) – “The question raised by this case of course is why our manager didn’t start by convening all of the interested stakeholders in the first place. The easy answer perhaps is that she didn’t think of it, or didn’t realize that she had the authority. But the deeper reason, which is true for many managers, is the perception that convening people outside of your own hierarchy is risky and difficult. As a result, many managers unconsciously avoid taking this step.”

Consensus – Team Building’s Silent Killer (Forbes) – “Groupthink is a very dangerous practice. It stifles innovation, discourages candor, disdains dissenting opinions, and mutes the truth. If what you seek is to neutralize your advantage by dumbing down the insights, observations and contributions of your team, then by all means default to consensus thinking.”

Communication Needs to ‘Cascade’ From the Executive Suite (Lencioni) – “Members of an organization’s executive team leave each of their meetings having agreed on a common set of messages that they will communicate to their respective staffs within a set period of time, usually between 24 and 48 hours after the end of the meeting.

Then, members of their staffs communicate those same messages to their staffs, and so on until they have cascaded throughout much or all of the organization. While the depth that is reached by cascading communication varies depending on the size and structure of an organization, in most cases it manages to descend two or three levels below the executive team. But what is important is that messages are being communicated consistently and quickly in a personal way.” 

Cascading Communication Exercise – “Cascading communication provides a great opportunity to establish clarity in an organization. When employees in different parts of an organization hear their leaders saying the same things after meetings, they start to believe that alignment and clarity is real and present in the organization.” (Available)

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability

The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.

Once there is a clear sense of what is expected, teammates are enabled to hold one another accountable. They have to be able to call peers out on performance or behaviors that may harm the team. The irony of holding back on this out of fear of discomfort is that eroding performance actually creates more resentment between people.

This doesn’t happen immediately, but fades over time as standards slowly decline.

Holding people accountable for results only is not enough, behaviors must be included – they often precede results issues.

Once we achieve clarity and buy-in, it is then that we have to hold each other accountable for what we sign up to do, for high standards of performance and behavior. And as simple as that sounds, most executives hate to do it, especially when it comes to a peer’s behavior. –Lencioni

Lencioni gives the following characteristics to look for:
A team that avoids accountability…

  • Creates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance
  • Encourages mediocrity
  • Misses deadlines and key deliverables
  • Places an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline

A team that holds one another accountable…

  • Ensures that poor performers feel pressure to improve
  • Identifies potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches without hesitation
  • Establishes respect among team members who are held to the same high standards
  • Avoids excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action

How do you create a culture of accountability?

The enemy of accountability is ambiguity. Publishing clear goals and standards is vital to set expectations. Setting team goals and team rewards helps here as well. People are less likely to watch someone fail if the entire team has a stake.

Team Effectiveness Exercise – Gives team members a forum to provide one another with focused, direct, and actionable feedback about how their individual behavior can improve the performance of the team. This is recommended for teams that have already built some trust and have been together for at least a couple of months (so they have observation-based opinions of one another). (Available)

Additional Resources

The Best Teams Hold Themselves Accountable (Harvard Business Review) – “Paul didn’t have to monitor latecomers or ask Lydia hard questions because he had created a culture of universal accountability. The basic principle was that anyone should be able to hold anyone accountable if it was in the best interest of the team. Team members were both motivated and able to handle the day-to-day concerns they had with one another, with him, or with anyone outside the team.”

Four Tips for Building Accountability (Harvard Business Review) – “The tools of accountability — data, details, metrics, measurement, analyses, charts, tests, assessments, performance evaluations — are neutral. What matters is their interpretation, the manner of their use, and the culture that surrounds them. In declining organizations, use of these tools signals that people are watched too closely, not trusted, about to be punished. In successful organizations, they are vital tools that high achievers use to understand and improve performance regularly and rapidly.”

5 Ways to Raise the Accountability Bar Inside Your Company (Inc. Magazine) – “The most essential “in the trenches” key to execution is to raise the accountability bar inside your company so that each team member feels like what he or she does is seen, noticed, and applauded.”

4 Simple Ways to Boost Accountability (Inc. Magazine) – “The term accountability is tossed around so frequently without any supporting actions that it is losing its meaning. I often hear my client executives say, “Let’s keep him accountable for the results” or “If we just keep them accountable we will be OK.” Nearly every mention of the word accountability is about other people. Accountability is like rain–everyone knows it’s good for you, but nobody wants to get wet.”

Book Difficult Conversations (Douglas Stone)

Sanctioned Incompetence (Dave Ramsey) – “When one team member is allowed to work less or consistently has a destructive attitude, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. If you don’t deal with the offending team member, the rest of the team will become demoralized and resentful.”

5 Enemies of a Team – “If we don’t have common goals nothing happens. A functioning team knows where they are going and they do it together. Make sure you have shared values and purpose.”

Manage a Difficult Conversation With Emotional Intelligence – “Emotions aren’t just the result of a workplace conflict. In fact, emotions usually are the conflict. They need to be acknowledged and planned for. Recognizing emotions, assessing their impact on thinking, understanding them, and managing them is a roadmap for navigating through those often-murky (and anxiety-provoking) waters.”

3 Tips to Turn Difficult Conversations into Productive Ones (Inc. Magazine) – “These conversations don’t have to be a bad thing, and if handled correctly, they should lead to increased performance.”

Difficult Conversations: 9 Common Mistakes (Harvard Business Review) – “The key in any tough talk is to always keep sight of the goal. Help prevent this by going into conversations with a clear, realistic preferred outcome; the knowledge of how you want your working relationship with your counterpart to be; and having done some careful thinking about any obstacles that could interfere with either.”

The Right Way to Hold People Accountable – “Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.”

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results

The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

Without accountability, people will gravitate toward their own personal goals at the expense of the collective goals of the team. Sports analogies fit in well here. It’s like a basketball player being happy he got a triple-double even if the team lost.

It is important to clearly define the results. A team member must be able to look at the results and know if they met the target. Many teams falter by setting subjective goals.

Make the results that we need to achieve so clear 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. –Lencioni

Lencioni gives the following characteristics to look for:
A team that is not focused on results…

  • Stagnates/fails to grow
  • Rarely defeats competitors
  • Loses achievement-oriented employees
  • Encourages team members to focus on their own careers and individual goals
  • Is easily distracted

A team that focuses on collective results…

  • Retains achievement-oriented employees
  • Minimizes individualistic behavior
  • Enjoys success and suffers failure acutely
  • Benefits from individuals who subjugate their own goals/interests for the good of the team
  • Avoids distractions

How do teams stay results focused?

One important tool is having a scoreboard of some sort. Have some kind of metrics that people can look at and quickly understand whether or not the team is succeeding. Publicly declare the goals, and reward the team based on achieving those results.

Additional Resources

Making Sure Your Employees Succeed (Harvard Business Review) –  “For goals to be meaningful and effective in motivating employees, they must be tied to larger organizational ambitions. Employees who don’t understand the roles they play in company success are more likely to become disengaged.”

How to Create a Results-oriented Culture (Inc. Magazine) – “One way to bridge the gap is to define the work the person being hired must do to be successful, rather than prepare a kneejerk list of “must have” skills and experiences.”

4 Critical Characteristics for Great Leadership (Inc. Magazine) – “Setting objectives and acting as a visionary aren’t enough for great leadership, because if you don’t achieve results, objectives won’t matter. According to McKinsey, ‘Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.’”

NBA Finals 2014: Spurs Operate Like A High-Level Business – “Wolfe cites the business performance model of ‘strategy, structure, people, and process.’ ‘Strategy is having a clear and compelling goal,’ he said. ‘The structure is: are we organized to meet that goal? And then, do we have the right people and capabilities? And that doesn’t necessarily mean superstars.’”