Business team in conflict

Five Dysfunctions of a Team Conflict Resolution Model

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

How comfortable are you and your team members engaging in conflict?

Chances are, the comfort level is mixed. And chances are, you and your team are not on the same page about how to engage in conflict.

Whatever the comfort level, there is a better way to engage in conflict using systematic productive, ideological conflict. This takes commitment and work. The key is to manifest a mindset that embraces vulnerability-based trust. 

Lencioni’s Conflict Resolution Model can help you and your team improve how you engage in productive, ideological conflict. 

This article will share how to build a foundation for healthy conflict for your team and work through Lencioni’s Conflict Resolution Model to navigate conflict, achieve clarity, and ultimately improve your team’s performance.

Why Conflict is Essential in Healthy Teams

Show me a team that systematically engages in productive, ideological conflict, and I will show you a team that wins - often winning significantly more than teams who chose not to. 

Teams that systematically engage in productive, ideological conflict experience three significant outcomes.

First and foremost, productive, ideological conflict facilitates a team to become “idea-rich.” No one of us is as smart as all of us. When the best ideas are systematically fleshed out regardless of personality style and position power, everyone wins.

Secondly, when the best ideas are systematically fleshed out and teams win as a result, the process and outcome helps facilitate team members to feel a sense of ownership and pride. 

What's more…Productive, ideological conflict is essential to ensure commitment and ultimately accountability and results. Without productive, ideological conflict, teams are far less likely to commit to decisions. Without clarity and buy-in, team members are more likely to avoid interpersonal discomfort and less likely to hold one another accountable. Without accountability, team members are likely to pursue their own individual goals and personal status instead of collective results.

As one can imagine, the stakes are extremely high. Unfortunately, most teams have a serious “conflict problem.” Most teams avoid conflict until the problem/pain becomes so great that they are unable to continue avoiding it. Complicating matters is the wide range of “conflict comfort/discomfort.” Some are seemingly “wired” or accustomed to engaging in conflict more readily while others seemingly avoid conflict at all costs. 

Notice the words I am using... 

“Systematic” is chosen to convey the concept that working through productive, ideological conflict is best done while intentionally using a stepwise approach. 

“Productive, ideological conflict” is conflict driven by concepts, ideas, and goals - not interpersonal conflict nor personal attacks.

Teams that are committed to winning are committed to engaging in productive, ideological conflict and do so in a systematic fashion. 


Build an Environment for Healthy ConflictAddress the First of the Five Dysfunctions

A serious word of caution. In today’s short attention span, move-quickly-world, it seems everyone wants immediate results without actually doing the work.  When it comes to helping your team engage in productive, ideological conflict, it is essential to slow down to speed up. 

There is a very important condition that must exist within a team in order to properly engage in productive, ideological conflict. Your team must have vulnerability-based trust as a foundation. Without vulnerability-based trust, productive, ideological conflict is nearly impossible. 

Without vulnerability-based trust, your team will be improperly engaging in the important work of conflict. Severe setbacks are very likely if conflict is mishandled.

The following cannot be understated. As a leader, you must do everything in your power to build and reinforce a foundation of vulnerability-based trust before all else. The important work for improving vulnerability-based trust on your team is never quite finished. Your team members deserve the connection that vulnerability-based trust shapes, and your Customers deserve the best your team has to offer. The stakes are extremely high. 

The good news is the continuous journey of vulnerability-based trust paves the way for team members to improve their own self-awareness as well as interpersonal awareness. As team members improve their understanding of themselves and others in terms of core Behavioral Style and motivators, they improve their perspective with regard to how they themselves and fellow team members view and engage in (or avoid) conflict. Furthermore, personal histories exercises and icebreaker activities are immensely helpful in enhancing a framework of understanding how a team member views and engages in conflict (more on this later). 


Shape Your Team's Mindset Regarding Conflict

There are three mindset “switches” I encourage you to “flip” with each team member to help your team become more accepting of conflict. 

    1. Productive, ideological conflict is essential for a healthy team. Self and interpersonal awareness, coupled with personal histories exercises and icebreakers as well as conflict norms, are important for every team to improve how they engage in productive, ideological conflict. 
    2. There are no shortcuts to conflict. One must slow down to speed up when it comes to conflict. In other words - teams must do the ongoing work. This work can be uncomfortable and seemingly tedious at times. 
    3. A mutually agreed-upon approach to engaging in conflict through conflict norms and ongoing development of vulnerability-based trust is essential for success. 

Speaking of no shortcuts to conflict...Often a participant will approach me during a break early in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop inquiring about when they can expect the team to actually engage in conflict. For some, this is the moment they have been waiting for! 

Conflict without vulnerability-based trust is just that - conflict. There can be no productive, ideological conflict without vulnerability-based trust. And every team member must be on the same page regarding the ground rules for conflict.

There are no shortcuts to doing this well. Every team member must do the work. 

An important mindset for team members to develop is that conflict norms provide an agreed-upon baseline of understanding concerning acceptable and unacceptable behavior during conflict. Conflict norms provide a playbook for how to engage in productive, ideological debate. Conflict norms can help enhance emotional safety.

A crucial norm or mindset is to help team members understand that no one has to be nor should be pitted against another. When reviewing a problem or issue, it is essential for a team to metaphorically be as together as possible on one side of the table with the problem or issue metaphorically on the other side. 

Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team provides a robust framework to dramatically improve how teams handle conflict. It is essential as a team to view conflict for the potential it represents collectively. Good friction requires a strong process that helps teams vet ideas, remove obstacles, and be idea-rich. 


Lencioni's Conflict Resolution Model

If your team has done the important work of improving vulnerability-based trust and developed conflict norms, you are likely ready to use Patrick Lencioni’s Conflict Resolution Model. Shared in his powerful book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni’s Conflict Resolution Model is a brilliant approach to help a team distill complex issues and erase the fog that often prevents them from engaging in productive, ideological conflict. Lencioni’s model illustrates four obstacle categories that can hinder teams from properly resolving conflict. These obstacles are often unrelated to the issue but can create distraction and noise. The four obstacles are:

  • Individual
  • Relationship
  • Environmental
  • Informational 

Side note: I highly recommend Lencionis’ Five Dysfunctions of a Team Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators as you work through this.

The Conflict Resolution Model

Like the layers of an onion.

Lencioni’s Conflict Resolution Model suggests why it can be so challenging for a team to get to the root cause of any issue. Have you and your team ever felt stuck - feeling as if you are unable to truly get to the heart of the matter? If so, congratulations. You and your team are normal.

The obstacle(s) are potentially several. There are likely multiple layers or obstacles that prevent your team from resolving issues. The objective is to get to the issue itself as a focus. To get there, teams often must acknowledge and address several obstacles or topics that may be unrelated to the issue at hand, but that create distractions and barriers to successfully resolving the conflict. 

Identify the Issue

It is essential to identify the issue, the crux of the problem. Getting clear and agreeing on the subject will allow you to come to an understanding of the facts. Review each obstacle group to identify what may be getting in the way. 

Individual Obstacles

The individual obstacles are most challenging. I often say, “people are beautiful” because they are infinitely complex and in some ways predictable and most others unpredictable. And let’s face it. People can be frustrating. Every human being brings their perspective, their personality, their personal and professional experiences, and are infinitely complicated. Add variances in experience, education, self-esteem, and Emotional Intelligence (EQ), and the complication increases exponentially. 

The hard and ongoing work of improving vulnerability-based trust can help team members improve their self-awareness as well as their awareness of fellow team members. Personal histories exercises and icebreakers can also greatly help view and understand individual obstacles. 

What individual obstacles are potentially hindering your team from getting to the real issue? What could be done to better understand these obstacles?

Relationship Obstacles

Relationships between team members can and will impact the team’s collective approach to the issue. To better grasp potential relationship obstacles, ask questions like:

  • Is there a legacy event that occurred that shapes the team’s thinking about the issue?
  • Have some behaviors resulted in an unfavorable reputation for one or more team members?
  • Do team members have different styles and levels of toleration that prevent conflict resolution?
  • Is there an opportunity for improved self and interpersonal awareness?
  • Does status on the team or in the organization impact how members view the issue?

Environmental Obstacles

Next, consider what is present in the environment or culture that may contribute to the conflict or interfere with the resolution.

Ask questions like:

  • What are the politics of the team or organization?
  • How does the company culture influence our thinking about the issue?
  • How is our team and organization’s morale? Does morale predispose us to think a certain way?

Informational Obstacles

Once you have identified the issue, get clear on the objective before bringing in the subjective. Ask, what are the facts? 

Then, you can start to ask questions that consider various perspectives and opinions. Ask questions to look at the issue from different angles, then ask: what shapes these perspectives?


Pulling it All Together: Conflict Resolution in Action

Before you implement this model with your team, take a moment to reflect on a recent conflict. Perform this exercise to envision how these elements “come together” so you can apply Lencioni’s Conflict Resolution model.

Take ten minutes with a sheet of paper and review each obstacle. 

Realize that your perspective is your perspective. It is your truth. What might the perspectives of others on your team be?

Now consider the foundation beneath Conflictvulnerability-based trust. Is everyone where they need to be?

Is your team self and interpersonally aware of one another’s Behavioral Styles? Does your team regularly engage in trust-building team exercises?



It is essential to get this as right as possible. Begin with the vulnerability-based trust. Remember. Sometimes you will take one step forward and several steps backward. Never give up. The benefits are often profound. This work is never, ever done. Do not rush the process. Trust the process. 

Are you curious about how you view and handle conflict? Complete our sample TriMetrix® HD assessment to learn more. Finally, to shape you and your team’s mindset about conflict, make sure they read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Make sure you have personally read it twice.

Schedule a brief dialogue to get started unleashing your team's potential.