(by Lencioni, Patrick M. (J-B Lencioni Series))

An Overview of the Model

First, genuine teamwork in most organizations remains as elusive as it has ever been. Second, organizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five dysfunctions of a team. These dysfunctions can be mistakenly interpreted as five distinct issues that can be addressed in isolation with the others. But in reality they form an interrelated model, making susceptibility to even one of them potentially lethal for the success of a team. A cursory overview of each dysfunction, and the model they comprise, should make this clearer.

  1. Absence of trust among the team members.
  2. Fear of conflict leading to an incapability to engage in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas.
  3. Lack of commitment to decisions.
  4. Avoidance of accountability. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.
  5. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team.

Another way to understand this model is to take the opposite approach--a positive one--and imagine how members of truly cohesive teams behave:

  1. They trust one another.
  2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
  3. They commit to decisions and plans of action.
  4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
  5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.

In theory, it is simple, in practice, it is extremely difficult because it requires levels of discipline and persistence that few teams can muster.

Understanding and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions

Dysfunction 1: Absence of trust

Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team; without it, teamwork is all but impossible. In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers' intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. In essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

It is only when team members are truly comfortable being exposed to one another that they begin to act without concern for protecting themselves. As a result, they can focus their energy and attention completely on the job at hand, rather than on being strategically disingenuous or political with one another.

Members of Teams with an Absence of Trust...

Members of Trusting Teams...

Suggestions for Overcoming Dysfunction 1

It requires shared experiences over time, multiple instances of follow-through and credibility, and an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of team members. Here are tools that can bring this about:

The Role of the Leader

The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. This requires that a leader risk losing face in front of the team, so that subordinates will take the same risk themselves. Team leaders must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability. Displays of vulnerability on the part of a team leader must be genuine; they cannot be staged.

Connection to Dysfunction 2

By building trust, a team makes conflict possible because team members do not hesitate to engage in passionate and sometimes emotional debate, knowing that they will not be punished for saying something that might otherwise be interpreted as destructive or critical.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict

All great relationships, the one that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. Unfortunately, conflict is considered taboo in many situations, and the higher you go up the management chain, the more you find people spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to avoid the kind of passionate debates that are essential to any great team.

It is important to distinguish productive ideological conflict (limited to concepts and ideas, avoiding personality-focused, mean-spirited attacks) from destructive fighting and interpersonal politics.

Contrary to the notion that teams waste time and energy arguing, those that avoid conflict actually doom themselves to revisiting issues again and again without resolution.

Suggestions for Overcoming Dysfunction 2

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Last modified 21 February 2021