Presentation in front of business team

How to Overcome the Five Dysfunctions of a Team

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team explores the primary challenges all teams have at some level.

The Five Dysfunctions model is elegantly simple yet powerful. 

The base or foundation of the pyramid model is Trust. Without Trust, Conflict will not effectively occur. Without proper Conflict, effective Commitment will not be possible. Without Commitment, Accountability will be avoided. Without Accountability, your Team will not fully achieve results. 

We have identified a couple of “universal truths:” All teams have some level of dysfunction. Therefore all teams can improve.

There are no shortcuts or fast tracks to Results. One must do the hard work of building Trust, then working to improve Conflict, and finally, creating Commitment. We have facilitated The Five Dysfunctions of a Team with Fortune 500 companies, small family-owned businesses, and nonprofits. 

Try This Exercise 

Slow down from your hectic schedule for ten minutes. Write down some answers… Reflect and allow your responses to soak in.

Knowing what I know now if I were you, I would be asking myself three essential questions: 

  • How dysfunctional is my team? 
  • What does my team’s dysfunction cost in lost productivity? 
  • Who and what suffers as a result of the dysfunction?
  • What is just one example of dysfunction observed in the past 30 days? What did it cost?

Most teams are mired in mediocrity to some degree. They are not talking about what needs to be discussed because they lack the awareness and structure to do so intentionally. Most teams are too busy to take the time to work through their dysfunctions – to get to the other side. Most teams will not take the time to actually read the book and talk about it, let alone take the next steps and commit to a formal retreat or training program. Be different. Take this valuable time. The lost opportunity, misunderstandings, lost time, profits, and relationships are worth slowing down for. 

1. Ask Yourself: Is This Another Book for the Bookshelf or a Real Turning Point?

Every airport has a bookstore. Travelers buy the book that is seemingly the key to their future success (if only they would do the work). And every team has its challenges. While some team challenges are more significant than others, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team can truly be a launchpad to address short- and long-term team and interpersonal issues. The reality is that very soon after reading the book, the lessons learned and good feelings wear off as every team member goes back to normal.  

The real work occurs after engaging with the book. Recognizing this fact combined with committing to a long-term team improvement plan can be the difference between short-term feel-good and real long-term change.  

Average teams make the Five Dysfunctions another book on their bookshelf, while committed teams make it a turning point. Do not be average.  

As the leader, you owe it to your team and organization to seriously consider making this an actual turning point in how your team works together and relates to one another and works together.

2. Use an Experienced Facilitator (From Outside Your Organization)

While you can certainly facilitate your own team discussions and workshops to overcome the Five Dysfunctions, chances are you and your team will have a much better experience by bringing in an experienced outside facilitator to help your team get the most out of your time together. 

A disinterested third party is just that – a disinterested third party.  

An experienced facilitator has likely been there, done that. They can share that experience with you and reassure you that you and your team are entirely normal. 

The heavy lifting can make a real difference in team-building and follow-up experience.  

We have learned to focus from the bottom up to solve issues that are higher in the Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model. For example, Trust amongst your team may be good (not great), but Accountability may seem like it really needs work, and it probably does. 

However, much of the work required to build Accountability is done through Trust, Conflict, and Commitment – not just in Accountability by itself. An experienced facilitator will know that and will be able to help you move through the stages.  

Furthermore, it is exceedingly difficult to be a facilitator and a team member. It is awkward and challenging. Do not do it. Bring in an experienced, outside facilitator.

3. Assess Your Team Members, Beyond Just Behaviors

It’s challenging to address the Five Dysfunctions of a Team without first assessing your team members.

When you do use assessments, choose them wisely. Most personality assessments stop at Behaviors, and that is a real shame. Looking only at Behaviors just scratches the surface. 

What really makes team members tick is always more profound than what Behaviors alone will explain. Seriously consider using a personality assessment instrument that measures Behaviors and Values. 

This will also give an experienced facilitator a better understanding of how to customize interactions during a workshop or retreat further. 

4. Complete The Five Dysfunctions Team Assessment Report

Patrick Lencioni’s Team Assessment Report is a powerful way to benchmark where your team is right now. Chances are, in some areas you believe you are weak at, you may actually be strong. You may actually be weaker in areas where you think your team is strong. In the Team Assessment Report, you will have the ability to drill down into each question to see how the team feels. The Report is a powerful conversation starter. 

We recommend reassessing your team 6-9 months after the initial assessment to see how much you improved or areas that may require additional attention.

5. Slow Down to Speed Up

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team model is powerful and it takes time. You must give it the time it deserves. The bigger your team, the more time you need to take. It is that important. If you plan to do this in a day – go back to number one and ask yourself, Is this an event or a turning point in the team and company? 

One must periodically slow down to speed up. In today’s hectic environment of working smarter – not harder and doing more with less, you have to invest the time to follow-up the first Five Dysfunctions of a Team session with a second session within 6-12 months.  

6. Create a Team Playbook around Norms and Communication

Use this time of reflection and transformation to complete a team Playbook, building awareness around team norms, communication style preferences, and other insights to help you work well together.  

There are key takeaways that your team can use in the short- and long-term to improve how they work together and as a reminder of what they must do to improve team function. This information is best collected and shared via a Playbook. 

Recommended information to include in your Playbook: 

  • Communication “do” and “don’t” list from each team member 
  • Team commitments
  • Team norms
  • Individual strengths and growth opportunities
  • Rules of engagement (agreed upon during the meeting) and meeting standards
  • 331 Information

7. Stay Committed to Overcoming Dysfunction for the Long-Term

If you are committed to making The Five Dysfunctions of a Team a turning point for your team, you must make plans to follow up at regular intervals, especially at the crucial 30, 60, and 90-day marks. This will help ensure the commitments and accountabilities identified are adhered to. 

It can take six weeks to break old habits. You need to create constant gentle pressure to ensure the new norms and ways of engaging one another are followed.

If you are working with a facilitator, they will structure this format to ensure adoption.

Continue to use tools like sharing 3-3-1- information (3 things going well / 3 things not going well / 1 area that I need help with) to stay focused on what matters most.

8. Keep Reading

As your team’s Leader, read the Five Dysfunctions book twice and expect participants to read it once.  

Team members do what their leaders do. Model the way. Read the book and become an expert regarding the storyline and the lessons to be learned. Reference it often before, during, and after the retreat.  

Finally, read The Advantage –Patrick Lencioni’s latest book– to continue to unleash your performance potential and gain a sustainable competitive advantage.

Want to overcome the Five Dysfunctions of a Team in two days with the help of an experienced facilitator?

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