Review – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

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

I recently listened to this book in audiobook format as an exercise for better understanding team dynamics. I found this to be a decent book with some useful information.

The book is written as a fable which seems to be common in management literature. I like this format. The concepts are explained as they’re applied in a story that’s believable. I was able to relate to the characters and situations which helped me understand the five dysfunctions and their impacts.

The model is based on five interrelated dysfunctions which each contribute to each other and cumulatively lead to poor performance:

  1. Absence of TrustFear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team. For a leader, showing vulnerability to the team helps build trust and makes being vulnerable acceptable within the team. This helps members accept each others weaknesses and built trust together.
  2. Fear of ConflictThe desire to preserver artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict. Directly tied to trust, if members can’t engage in conflict in a  way they feel safe then decisions can’t be made. A leader must allow conflict to occur naturally and know when moderation is required.
  3. Lack of CommitmentThe lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to. If team members can’t voice their opinions for fear of conflict they won’t agree to a decision they don’t agree with. It’s important for a leader to allow everyone who shows any doubts to at least speak their mind in order to get buy in. Then once a decision is made all team members will accept the decision whether they agree with it or not. This commitment drives performance.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability – The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable. If the team members aren’t committed they won’t feel a need to hold each other accountable. Without accountability nothing gets delivered. Normally a manager would dictate this to the team but a leader must enable each team member to hold each other accountable.
  5. Inattention to Results – The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success. Perhaps the most difficult when each individual feels they are judged based on their individual performance. A leader must emphasize the importance of the team, as well as how each individual contributes to the team. If members buy into this and understand that their individual results should be framed in the context of team results the overall team performance can improve.

This has been quite interesting to me because organizational values can directly contribute to these dysfunctions. An organization that values individual performance is going to have a hard time getting the most out of team work. A company that doesn’t engage its employees in strategy and vision will never get full buy in and therefore employees just won’t be committed to strategic initiatives. In my industry there can be big egos and people afraid to fail. This leads to absence of trust and can be experienced from the top all the way down.

Overall I enjoyed this book. The model Lencioni has built seems to make sense to me and I agree with it for the most part. I was able to reflect on some of my own qualities and behaviors that make me a leader. There were also some good lessons that have inspired my next few subjects to explore.

Because this is a short read I’d recommend it to anyone interested in team dynamics and team management from human perspective.