Team business leader looking at data

Five Dysfunctions of a Team Foundation

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

In Patrick Lencioni's powerful book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he outlines the five core causes of dysfunction that can hold a team back from reaching its true potential. 

The ultimate objective of a team is to achieve results that align with its mission, vision, and values. 

Every time I facilitate a Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop, I am in awe as I witness a transformation that occurs literally before my eyes over a couple of days. I marvel at how interdependent the Five Dysfunctions of a Team model is. I believe Lencioni has identified a universal truth or set of truly interconnected and timeless principles.

As Patrick Lencioni notes, "These dysfunctions can be mistakenly interpreted as five distinct issues that can be addressed in isolation of the others. But in reality, they form an interrelated model, making susceptibility to even one of them potentially lethal for the rest of the team."


The Five Dysfunctions Process

Roll with me for a moment as I recite the cadence from Results to Trust...Results are difficult to achieve unless every single team member is rowing hard and true in the same direction. Achieving results requires interpersonal accountability. Interpersonal accountability is difficult to accomplish without clarity and buy-in through commitment.

Commitment is difficult to achieve without productive conflict. 

Productive conflict is difficult to achieve when artificial harmony keeps team members from engaging in the kind of conflict that brings forth the best ideas coupled with ownership. Productive conflict is difficult to impossible to achieve without vulnerability-based trust. Vulnerability-based trust is challenging to achieve without doing the heavy lifting of better understanding ourselves, our team members, and learning about one another's backstories and perspectives.

Sense the interconnectedness?

Yet, there can only be one foundation, right? One essential truth from which all others flow from/through. While each dysfunction is critical to understand and counter, I believe the core or true foundation of the Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model is vulnerability-based trust.

The ULTIMATE core cause of dysfunction in a team is Absence of Trust. Without vulnerability-based trust, nothing else really matters. 

If you have yet to read Lencioni's book - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, you owe it to yourself and your team to do so at your earliest convenience.

For additional clarity, a high-level overview of The Five Dysfunctions Model follows: 

  • Absence of Trust
    Teams with an absence of trust are not vulnerable, less likely to show weakness nor be open with one another. Teams with an absence of trust are often are slow to request help and admit mistakes. 
  • Fear of Conflict
    An Absence of Trust directly translates into a Fear of Conflict, and team members often worry more about politics and protecting their own interests than solving problems. A lack of debate and sharing of opinions is a symptom of fear of conflict. Teams that avoid or do not adequately engage in conflict have boring meetings and produce less than optimal results. The best ideas do not surface, and ownership of decisions is diminished. 
  • Lack of Commitment
    When teams are fearful of conflict, one significant outcome is a fear of failure. With the fear of failure, decision-making becomes difficult. A Fear of Conflict directly translates into a Lack of Commitment. Teams that lack commitment have difficulty making decisions and often second-guess themselves. The result is ambiguity.
  • Avoidance of Accountability
    Teams that second guess themselves and lack common objectives experience an inability to develop performance standards. The result is increased mediocrity. 
  • Inattention to Results
    When team members are not focused on clear objectives, the result is mediocrity and distraction and a focus on personal gain over the good of the team.

The absence of trust creates a team culture and ripe environment where the other four dysfunctions will undoubtedly flourish and ultimately rob the team of achieving its true potential. 


How to Improve Your Team's Foundation

If you are reading this, your interest is piqued. You seek to help your team achieve results with minimal friction. Chances are you have trust issues in your team (most do to some degree). If so, you are probably interested in the answers to the following common questions:

  • Can vulnerability-based trust be improved in a team?
  • Does it take long to build vulnerability-based trust in a team?
  • What can hinder a team from building vulnerability-based trust?
  • How does a team develop vulnerability-based trust?

There is good news. Leaders can often improve vulnerability-based trust in a team. This requires a commitment by all team members to do the work and realize the work is ongoing.

The Barriers to Vulnerability-Based Trust

More good news...Team members can improve trust relatively quickly if ALL team members do the work. In the spirit of total candor, there are four serious potential barriers to building vulnerability-based trust. 

These barriers are: 

  • If a team member has outright lied to other team members or is viewed not to be trustworthy, all bets are off. 
  • If a team member cannot perform their work in a manner that is respected, all bets are off. 
  • If there has been a legacy event that one or more key team members just cannot get past.
  • If the team leader is not fully engaged in the Five Dysfunctions Model - particularly vulnerability-based trust.

The team leader must be fully engaged and must model the way by being vulnerable. Vulnerability can be difficult for some team leaders to show. If the team leader is unwilling to be or get vulnerable, it is doubtful others will. 

But never say never. I have found that leaders can positively influence hearts and minds during The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Workshop

How to Build Vulnerability-Based Trust

The keys to developing vulnerability-based trust include:

  • Awareness of the specific challenges and behaviors that impede vulnerability-based trust in a team. A completed Team Assessment Report will help shed light and provide a prescription or path to improving vulnerability-based trust.
  • Awareness of one's own Behavioral Style and that of each team member. One's behavioral style directly influences how a person views and builds trust. Accordingly, self and interpersonal awareness is key to understanding oneself and others. Completion of a valid Behavioral Style assessment can help enhance this understanding.
  • A willingness to do the heavy-lifting of time invested with fellow team members to deep dive into the hard work building vulnerability-based trust in the team. Depending upon the size of the team, this typically requires a half to a full day reviewing the Team Assessment Report as well as individual and collective Behavioral Styles and engaging in personal histories exercises. 

For best results, it is strongly recommended that you engage an experienced facilitator who can guide your team through the Five Dysfunctions of a Team in a workshop/retreat setting. 

It is essential to understand:

  1. One's Mindset Shapes Perspective and Action - People do what they do as a result of their personality, life experiences, and acceptable norms. 
  2. Self and Interpersonal Awareness & Norms - Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, and Results best practices and norms may be developed, agreed upon, and used to create more predictable, safer experiences and outcomes for team members. 

The mindset of a human being is an extraordinarily complicated mystery that I want to be careful not to over-simplify in this article. 

The Power of Mindset

Gary Klein, Ph.D., describes mindset as "a belief that orients the way we handle situations - the way we sort out what is going on and what we should do. Our mindsets help us spot opportunities, but they can also trap in self-defeating cycles."

I especially like his description because of its application to how teams work together. Teams can get stuck in "self-defeating cycles" because that is the de facto group norm. An example of a common group norm is, "We really do not debate issues to get to the best possible outcome and to create true buy-in and ownership."

I view "mindset" as - a person's habits of thought. My experience working with teams is that thought patterns may be better understood through surveys (Team Assessment), Behavioral Style Awareness, personal histories exercises, and ultimately agreeing upon a code of conduct or norms to create accountability and predictability. 

Let's unpack this a bit more.

Think of "mindset" as the "operating system" of how a person, each team member, behaves and why they do what they do within the context of their behavior. Think of conduct as a vehicle. If I mention "Chevrolet Suburban," you have a generally good idea that it is a large, gas-guzzling vehicle that can carry several passengers comfortably as well as a lot of cargo. Now, think of what motivates a person - their "Driving Forces" or motivators as the front wheels - where is the vehicle going? 

The key is to help team members understand what shapes their mindset and perspective of the world around them. A powerful way to shed light on this is to use a Behavioral Style assessment. Literally seeing oneself on paper, understanding the normalcy and influence of one's own thought patterns helps better ground oneself relative to their internal story and relative to fellow team members. 

Done properly, the result is Behavioral Style Awareness, where team members become more self-aware. As they are introduced to the Behavioral Styles of their team members, they better understand their perspective - enhanced interpersonal awareness. 

I like to refer to this process as "honoring the greatness" in ourselves and others. Ever notice how we sometimes judge some of our behaviors and thought patterns harshly? By engaging in the process of understanding our own Behavioral Style and that of others, a powerful opportunity to reshape our internal narrative about ourselves and others presents itself.

Vulnerability-based trust is the key - the foundation of the other four dysfunctions. The key to improving vulnerability-based trust is understanding our own mindset - our perspective and that of others. Using a Behavioral Style assessment coupled with personal histories exercises is a powerful way to reshape our internal narrative about ourselves and others to build vulnerability-based trust.

There is more. Behavioral Style Awareness is essential to sustainably improve trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results.

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