Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a team

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Partick Lencioni in his book wants you to think about your teams and answer the following questions :-

  • Are your team members open to share their views and beliefs ?
  • Are your team meetings useful and productive ?
  • Does your team make decisions quickly or avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  • Do your team members have conflicts ? Do they confront each other about their weaknesses ?
  • Do the team members sacrifice their personal interests for the betterment of team ?

If answers to all the above questions are “yes” , then you are a great leader. But, If you have answered “no” to any of these questions, you need to read this.

Why teams go dysfunctional ?

Different strokes for different folks. There are different individuals with different strengths and weaknesses working together in team. And , this diversity, if not handled well by the leader can turn the team into a group of non-performing individuals.. Even the most well-intentioned people might slip into unproductive and unhealthy behaviour.

According to Patrick Lencioni, there are five factors that makes a team weak and a non-performing team .The five dysfunctions of a team are:

  • Absence of Trust,
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results.

The five dysfunctions are stacked in a pyramid . Without building a strong foundation on the bottom, there is no achieving the higher level goals.

1. Absence of Trust

Trust is the basis of any relationship. Team integrity completely depends on trust – trust between peers & trust between manager and member. In case lack of trust creeps up in the team lot of behavioural changes in team members which in turn demolishes the very purpose of working as a team. 

Indicators & Behaviours
  • Are not vulnerable with one each other.
  • Do not admit their mistakes and weaknesses.
  • Do not ask for help from each other.
  • Hide their true feelings
  • Shun away from taking responsibilities, because they don’t want to make mistakes.
  • Not being open, fearful and hesitant to communicate with each other.
  • Getting into defensive mode.

All the above behaviours impedes the effectiveness of the team

  • Vulnerability-based trust.
  • Disclosing thoughts and feelings,
  • Sharing ideas, admitting own shortfalls and mistakes,
  • Asking for help
  • Giving and receiving honest feedback.

Team members are open with one another because they are confident that each member has the best interests of the team/business at heart. In Lencioni’s words

Trust is confidence that teammates will not slip a knife in your back as soon as you turn it“. 

Effect: Invulnerability

2. Fear of Conflict

Lencioni rightly emphasises that confrontations and conflicts, when they come with the right intention and are effectively managed, are “necessary goods” as opposed to “necessary evils”. An old quote says ““If two people agreeing in all terms then one is redundant. Conflict is healthy & required for progress”.

Indicators & Behaviours
  • Reluctant to confront one another.
  • Discussion regarding to key issues may be absent, muted or indirect.
  • There is artificial harmony, but not genuine commitment.
  • Competitive, un-constructive and aggressive confrontations.
  • Incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues,
  • Team conflicts turning into veiled discussions and back channel comments.
  • Lot of posturing and precious time wasted, resulting in inferior decisions.
  • Establishing that conflict is welcome and purposeful.
  • Echoing good confrontation gives the opportunity for generating new ideas and the elimination of not-so-good ideas.
  • Defining what healthy conflict looks like by praising healthy examples or giving corrective feedback if conflict veers towards unhealthy.
  • Setting “mine for conflict” by opening a meeting with a bad idea to see if everyone will agree to avoid conflict, and use this as a litmus test to open up healthy discussion.
  • Designating a devil’s advocate in a meeting, or use pro and con lists for ideas to get people to open up to sharing a differing perspective.

Effect: Artificial Harmony

3. Lack of commitment

Once the team masters the conflict it will be able to effectively address the third dysfunction of a team – Lack of Commitment.

Indicators and Behaviours
  • Running around without starting an activity.
  • Not really engaging one self.
  • Members may instead focus their attention on individual interests.
  • May do it for work sake but do not commit. 
  • Lack of direction and commitment.
  • Without conflict, team members do not commit to decisions,
  • Not committing to decisions further creates ambiguity.
  • Top performers are disgruntled
  • Each member clearly understands, endorses and commits to the goals of the team. 
  • Setting clear deadlines.
  • Reviewing key decisions at the end of meetings.
  • Communication filters at every level in organisational hierarchy.
  • Contingency planning can help teams overcome fears by creating clear plans and facing potential pitfalls.
  • Buy-in :All team members share their opinions and ideas.
  • Trust and a willingness to engage in healthy debate
  • Opinions and ideas receive genuine and appropriate consideration.
  • Clarity : each member absolutely understands the agreements/decisions of the group. 

Effect: Ambiguity

4.Avoidance of Accountability

When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, they may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.Team member thinks that only manager is answerable to upper management & there is no accountability for them,

Indicators & Behaviours
  • Poor performers to slip by.
  • Mediocrity creeps in.
  • Indisciplined team members .
  • Blame games, washing linen in public.
  • No responsibility for producing results.
  • Setting of clear standards and goals
  • Proper planning and adherence of deadlines.
  • Clear expectation settings
  • Prudent decision making
  • Progress reviews
  • Team rewards

 Effect: Low standards

5. Inattention to results

Ultimate goal of any team is producing results. When teams are not accountable and when team members are nibbling for their own interests – this puts purpose of a team at stake. 

Indicators and Behaviours
  • Team members put their own needs ahead of the collective goals.
  • Business suffers
  • Ruckus for career progression i.e. promotion.
  • Fights for salary hike, incentives etc
  • Developing and implementing clear mechanisms encourage them to achieve results.
  • Healthy competition among team members,
  • Publicly committing to achieving clear objectives.
  • Making results public.
  • Linking recognition and rewards to achievement of results.

Effect: Status and ego

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