The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Why are you here?
Perhaps, you are here due to the undeniable widespread appeal and successful application of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni’s books have now been sold in more than 30 languages across his 11 best-selling books. His writing has been featured in Fortune magazine, USA Today, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Harvard Business Review. Lencioni’s Client list reads like a who's who of “get it” companies and leaders.
Yet there is another important student of Lencioni’s who has not made the list yet, but who stands to gain much from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: you.
Are you amongst the visionary Leaders for whom reflection on The Five Dysfunctions of a Team will result in great success? Chances are that if you are invested in following up on your reading, you are.
Here are three common doubts we hear as to why Leaders fail to action the insights they learned in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:
1. My team really is not that dysfunctional.
Perhaps your team is not really that dysfunctional. The honest reality is your team is probably much more dysfunctional than you may realize and the costs of that dysfunction, however seemingly small, are often a serious hidden performance drag over time.
Why take the risk of inaction—doing nothing to improve how your team works together?
As Lencioni says, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
While your team may be less dysfunctional than most teams, the real question is, “What does dysfunction cost your team and organization? What are the hidden and not-so-hidden costs of unnecessary friction? Why not resolve the dysfunctions and free yourself and your team to work on the work that really matters?”
The undeniable truth is ALL Teams are dysfunctional to some degree because Teams are comprised of fallible, imperfect human beings. From the basketball court to the executive suite, politics and confusion is the rule rather than the exception.
2. My team and I have read and discussed The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and we are still as dysfunctional as ever. We do not see this working.
Reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is not enough. Knowing is rarely enough - particularly with The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. You and your team must do the work.
Perhaps you are familiar with the “knowing-doing gap.”
The knowing-doing gap is the disconnect between knowledge and action. If the knowing-doing gap did not exist, we would just read a book to learn how to fly a plane; every recipe a person tries would match the photos in the cookbook and taste to perfection the first time.
Clearly, that is not how the world really works.
And while the principles of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team seem so clear and obvious (because they are), working through each Dysfunction requires patience, objective expertise, and resilience.
Patience is essential. Doing the work is essential. Every human being has unique experiences and perspectives that color their view of the world and how they react. Everyone views the world, themselves in the world, and legacy events differently than others. Every human being is in a different place in terms of self and interpersonal awareness. Each team member may have an “aha moment” where they “get it” at a different time relative to their colleagues.
Furthermore, as your team works through The Five Dysfunctions of a Team framework, there will be times where your team seemingly makes great strides only to take ten steps back soon after.
It can be extremely helpful to have an objective, experienced practitioner who has guided teams through multiple evolutions from dysfunction to a high-performing team. They can reassure you and your team that you are normal, you are on the right path, and encourage you to persist in doing the hard work.
Objective expertise is essential for successfully and sustainably overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
You will recall that Kathryn, the CEO of DecisionTech, was an experienced practitioner of turning teams around.
Two important emphasis points: Kathryn was experienced in turning executive teams around AND was from outside the company. Chances are, turning teams around is not a skill set in your wheelhouse.
While it is possible to improve your team’s dysfunction, it is extremely unlikely you will improve beyond a particular point without objective, outside expertise. The reasons why are simply a matter of experience and objectivity.
Teams that are guided by an experienced, objective facilitator through The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop experience desired results more quickly.
Team members are more likely to engage, listen to and respond to an objective (outside) expert over an internal team member who by default is not unbiased nor an expert and a likely contributor to the dysfunction. Objectivity translates into enhanced vulnerability and speed of the team. And besides. Facilitating The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop requires significant, concentrated energy. Simultaneously wearing the two hats of both inexperienced facilitator AND participant is NOT going to lead to optimal results for obvious reasons.
3. Like many business books, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team will promise much but fail to deliver tangible results.
Look. It is entirely natural to be skeptical. Airport bookshelves are filled with countless books written by supposed gurus providing little more than untested theories and happy talk. Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’s track record speaks for itself. As a best-selling book since April 2002, most who lead have read it.
The principles of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team not only make intuitive sense, but they also work. And for those who commit to the patience and work of minimizing dysfunction in their team, the results are often extraordinary. More importantly, while Lencioni creates an emotional resonance to engage his readers, the application of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a very real, tangible process when done properly. Use tools like the Team Assessment Report, a valid psychometric assessment instrument, and facilitation with an experienced facilitator to properly assess, transform, and accelerate your team to the results you seek.
You and your team just need to do the work.
Still not convinced?
I have had an intense fascination with The Five Dysfunctions of a Team since 2007.
At the time, my consulting business, where I advised top executives and founders, was several years old and achieving great success.
I had a particular Client experiencing significant discord in their executive team. I mentioned that he should read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team in passing. They were intrigued but not sold. I decided to offer a workshop to facilitate discussion and action. The Client accepted, and I immediately went to work translating the book's principles into an outcomes-oriented 2-day workshop.
Long story short, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team worked extremely well for them. My Client experienced an immediate improvement in how their team worked together. Mission accomplished.
I began offering The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop to more of my Clients. I have never looked back. My Clients have never looked back, either. If they do, it is only with wonder at how far they have come.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with non-profits and companies ranging from Silicon Valley to Fortune 500 to founder-lead small businesses and nonprofits. I have learned much from those I have served.
What strikes me is the commonality amongst the teams I have worked with.
People want to be part of something greater than themselves.
People are doing their best to do work that matters, make a good living, and move the ball forward for their team and company. What gets in the way is a lack of clarity, personality, mindset, and lack of agreed-upon norms.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team plays nicely with other excellent business strategy frameworks. I am a passionate believer in The Rockefeller Habits—particularly Habit #1—“The Executive Team is Healthy and Aligned.”
So much can be accomplished when the executive team is healthy and aligned.
I do not believe in quick fixes, but Clients (and their people) have told me after completing the The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop that it is the single best thing they have ever done with their team.
Post-workshop, I often hear people days or weeks or even months later remark that there is life before the workshop and life after for their team. They cannot believe what they did not understand about their colleagues and how they operated without meeting and conflict norms.
If you are seeking similar life-changing results, here are six steps you can follow to get there.
Even if you cannot follow these steps right away, you can at least take the seven minutes to read the guide and understand what it takes for you and your Team to truly leverage the insights from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
Then, you can decide if, how, and when you will start your Five Dysfunctions of a Team journey.
Step 1: Embrace the Fact That You Have a Dysfunctional Team
It is not a comfortable moment to recognize that your team has dysfunction.
However, before getting to the benefits and the insights of The Five Dysfunctions, you must embrace that your team is dysfunctional. Period. There is no such thing as unicorns. Your team is not the exception.
Strong Leaders can look at The Five Dysfunctions and acknowledge them as part of their Team’s dynamic.
- Absence of Trust
- Fear of Conflict
- Lack of Commitment
- Avoidance of Accountability
- Inattention to Results
All teams have at least one of these dysfunctions getting in the way of the relationships and outcomes they so desire. Most have three to five. They are inherent to the team dynamic, and they are cyclical.
There are incredible positives to recognizing dysfunction in your organization.
Firstly, you can begin to address your team’s dysfunctions proactively.
Secondly, you can build greater trust with your team when you are candid about your team’s dysfunction and demonstrate an intention to act on it.
Thirdly, acknowledging the presence of dysfunction eradicates the impulse to seek artificial harmony instead of constructive, passionate debate—the type of dialogue required to achieve success.
Viewing your team’s dysfunction for what it is is a big first step. Everyone says they care about their team, Customers, Clients, and the future of their organization, yet they often turn a blind eye to the dysfunction that can sweep their own legs out from under them at times. You are not burying your head in the sand—ignore the normal. You acknowledge your team’s dysfunction head-on.
Now, you must act. Dysfunction never sorts itself out. Instead, unnecessary layered frictions from lack of clarity, workarounds, and avoidance of conflict erode or destroy the potential of what could be. Step into it, face the truth, and do the hard work of ensuring your team is truly working together in a meaningful way.
The only way out is through doing the hard work.
Step 2: Understand the Costs of Dysfunction
After more than 20 years of consulting with CEOs and their teams, little surprises me.
While no one can say they have seen it all, I have seen some of the best and some of the worst in human behavior.
I have observed the horrific costs associated with senior leadership not getting along nor being on the same page. I have observed the proverbial moose on the table not being discussed.
I have seen the gamut of horrific communication, from elaborate communication workarounds to direct conflict and passive-aggressiveness. Co-founders who once loved and respected one another came to loathe and talk around one another even when in the very same room. I have observed supposed teams that have morphed into siloed factions pitted against one another.
These dysfunctions are so incredibly typical and so incredibly expensive and exhausting to everyone involved, particularly those observing or caught in the crossfire.
Quite honestly, this behavior is the norm rather than the exception.
Chances are, you have seen this, too. The truth is, it is much easier to see it in others than it is to see it in ourselves, our teams, and our own organizations.
While you may see your team’s dysfunction and acknowledge it is there, do you know how much your inaction is costing you and your team? Your bottom line?
Team dysfunctions end up costing teams and organizations incredible amounts of wasted time, energy, and resources. And while these costs are often difficult to quantify, the costs of missed opportunity, missed collaboration, reduced employee morale, and unnecessary turnover are truly staggering.
In addition to wasted time and resources, you also suffer from what you miss. Your team misses opportunities to synergize, generate ideas, and get vectors aligned. You miss out on revenue, ideas, and you will have disengaged team members. In short, you are left with unleashed potential.
Teams that engage in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop can expect the following:
- Enhanced self and interpersonal awareness
- Knowledge of their team members’ behavioral styles, personal histories, and conflict styles
- Insight into their team’s strengths, dysfunctions, and ideal norms
- Specific, recommended improvements for enhanced team performance
You must ask yourself if you are committed to excellence or are you committed to mediocrity. Actions speak louder than words. Teams and organizations committed to fighting mediocrity create accountability on purpose. Accountability comes when you and your team understand the high cost of dysfunction and commit to overcoming it.
Step 3: See the Vision of a High-Performing Team
Members of high-performing teams are exhilarating to observe.
High-performing teams are comprised of team members who are capable of doing the work well and are self and interpersonally aware. They know, respect, and love their own strengths and blind spots and that of their colleagues.
In order to get your team out of its dysfunctional dynamic, you and your team must envision the future state - a high-performing team.
Inspire your team with three key ingredients: People, Passion, and Purpose. Your team should feel appreciated and part of something bigger than themselves.
High-performing teams definitively know the answers to the following Six Critical Questions:
- Why do we exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important right now?
- Who must do what?
The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni (2012)
When Leaders make the essential time to understand what it takes to develop and maintain a successful team, they begin to see how high performance can be encouraged and dysfunction fought throughout the lifecycle of every employee team member. They review selection, onboarding, coaching, developing, and succession planning, creating a holistic plan for team performance.
There is a rhythm to how these teams operate and perform that ensures consistent performance. High-performing teams make the time to consider the big picture, meeting off-site, focusing on how they work as a team to solve problems.
Step 4: Prepare For Your Team's Transformation
If you truly seek to improve your team’s performance through The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, do the following at your earliest convenience. Run, do not walk.
Read the book (if you have not already done so). Summaries do not do justice to the insights and subtleties gleaned by actually reading this powerful book.
Get your team members to read the book. Then discuss it.
If you are serious about committing to fighting dysfunction, engage an experienced facilitator to guide you and your team through the journey. An experienced facilitator will bring a deep knowledge of implementing The Five Dysfunctions to create meaningful change.
True transformation involves a facilitated Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop and follow-up sessions to ensure proper adoption.
An experienced facilitator will be able to guide you and your team through the journey to maximize success.
What gets measured gets improved. Before starting your Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop, you should incorporate psychometric personality assessments coupled with the Five Dysfunctions of a Team Assessment.
Done well, a Five Dysfunctions Workshop can be a turning point AND an acceleration point for you and your team. Decide the importance of getting this right. Prepare well and expect significant change.
Step 5: Conquer the Big Transformation with Your Team
I can always tell how a Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop will go by how quickly team members complete the pre-work and whether they actually read and engage the reading and preparation prior.
By the time a team gets to Step 5 - the actual workshop retreat, they are chomping at the bit to do the work. It is completely normal to be nervous. They want to eradicate dysfunction and unlock high performance.
The most common emotion I observe seems to be nervous anticipation.
Most grasp the rare opportunity to shape the future and recognize the importance of their contribution.
Most people and teams are actually ready to dig in and do the work. Some are perhaps too eager to dive right into conflict - to say what they wanted to say for a long time to others on their team without doing the groundwork of Trust.
Those who experience the best immediate and long-term results roll their sleeves up, trust the process, stay focused and present, and do the work.
Workshops typically consist of 1.5-2.5 days of off-site sessions facilitated by an experienced facilitator. The more team members involved, the longer the recommended workshop time.
The workshop should focus on one dedicated team to be impactful.
We deploy a powerful psychometric assessment, like the TriMetrix®HD, to help team members improve their self and interpersonal awareness. The facilitator will use Lencioni’s Team Assessment Report to understand how the team works together and identify immediate improvement opportunities.
Expect the unexpected. You and your team members will likely experience emotions, from optimism to nervousness to frustration. It is all normal. You will also be surprised by what you do not know about your team members and how they feel about your team, culture, processes, vision, and more.
You or your team members may wish to speed up the process. However, you cannot accelerate the process. You will also not get through all the content. Do the work. Get plenty of rest in the days prior and during so you have the stamina to get the work done.
Once the work is done, your team will be rewarded with lifted emotional burdens and a roadmap. The roadmap will provide you and your team with tangible steps to take to fight dysfunction and unleash unrealized potential.
Step 6: Make the Transformation Last
Like all things worth doing well, there are no shortcuts to success with the critical work of maximizing team performance. The work must be done, and there is always more to do.
Teams that continue to systematically do the hard work of overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team reap the rich rewards.
Committed teams continue their work post-workshop, engaging at least quarterly. They seek to keep the insights gained alive.
These teams continue to seek to understand themselves and one another and enhance and adopt their norms over time.
They do everything possible to develop and refine powerful mindset-shaping guides like mission, vision, and guiding values.
Leaders will work with their team to shore up areas that need shoring up and re-assess and identify improvement areas and opportunities for further development.
Finally, leaders and teams realize that overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team takes time, and the investment is worth it and never quite finished. They commit to ongoing learning through repeat engagements and further reading and skills development.
Invest in your team’s future.
The best way to predict the future…
We stand on the shoulders of many giants—our forefathers, mentors, and some of the most visionary minds like Drucker, Jobs, and Lencioni.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker.
"Great things in business are never done by one person; they're done by a team of people." – Steve Jobs
“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” - Patrick Lencioni
Your destiny and that of your team are in your hands. If you are ready to do the hard work, call on me to help guide you through the journey.
The best is yet to come.