Don’t be a Dysfunctional Team

“Like so many other aspects of life, teamwork comes down to mastering a set of behaviors that are at once theoretically uncomplicated, but extremely difficult to put in practice.” – Patrick Lencioni

“Success comes only for those groups that overcome the all-too-human behavioral tendencies that corrupt teams and breed dysfunctional politics within them.” – Patrick Lencioni

Our company recently developed a new leadership program – the Diversity Leadership Advantage Program (DLAP).  The program was designed to help us further invest in the development of our top leaders, but with a focus on encouraging diversity both in terms of participants and their perception on how to become a more effective leader.

To ensure the curricula would give us the desired results, we asked the five pilot participants to present their thoughts and observations on the program to management, including a case study on how the principles they learned helped them in the real world.  During their presentations, one of our participants shared his impressions on the concept of the five dysfunctions of a team.  I loved this concept so much I thought I’d feature it for this blog.

This framework was first introduced by a gentlemen named Patrick Lencioni back in 2002. I remember reading it years ago, and when the team presented the framework last week it reminded me how relevant the principles are. So if you’ll allow me, I’d like to present Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team (his words are in bold and italics) and share my thoughts on each.

  • Dysfunction #1 – Absence of Trust: Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team.  Without it, teamwork is all but impossible.

How true is this?  I have seen the best of teams destroyed by a leader or a team member whose actions breed mistrust.  If you want a team to perform properly, you must build an environment of trust.  Trust that the leader and all team members will operate transparently and in the best interests of the team.

  • Dysfunction #2 – Fear of Conflict:  All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow.

I love this one as well.  Too often we try to avoid conflict in a team environment, only to ignore “the elephant in the room”.  This breeds an environment of distrust because no one will acknowledge what is really wrong.  The result is a team that begins to fracture due to its inability to move past the issues.  To be clear, a team in constant conflict is not a team.  But there is a concept of constructive conflict – and issues must be acknowledged so they can be addressed.

  • Dysfunction #3 – Lack of Commitment:   Commitment is a function of two things:  clarity and buy-in.  Great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every team member, even those who voted against the decision.

Read that last sentence again.  Notice how commitment doesn’t require consensus?  What it does require is two things – team members’ views are acknowledged and considered, and the resulting decisions (however opposed the team members are) is supported because of an environment of trust.  Ever been on one of those teams where people ‘whisper’ disagreement at the coffee machine after having agreed to support the approach?  Guess how long it takes for that fracture to become a chasm between team members?

  • Dysfunction #4 – Avoidance of Accountability:  The essence of this dysfunction is the unwillingness of team members to tolerate the interpersonal discomfort that accompanies calling a peer on his or her behavior and the more general tendency to avoid difficult conversations. 

Building on the first three, this dysfunction is the one that often sets a team adrift and feeds the vicious cycle of mediocre performance.  But I’ll offer one other perspective on this – accountability starts with each individual on the team.  If all team members are willing to own their responsibility and hold themselves accountable, there is no need for the difficult conversations.  But make no mistake, when team members aren’t performing, the rest of the group has every right to raise concern and insist on accountability for those not meeting their commitments.

  • Dysfunction #5 – Inattention to ResultsThe ultimate dysfunction of a team is the tendency of members to care about something other than the collective goals of the group.

Well put!!!  In the end teamwork is about achieving results – whether that’s a business objective, a sports ‘win’, or the advancement of a social cause.  If the team isn’t focused on the goal at hand, doesn’t have a vision or benchmark for success, and isn’t focusing on their progress towards those objectives, none of their activity matters.

So, as you participate in activities with your team, or as you lead on behalf of your team members, keep these dysfunctions in mind, and work diligently to eliminate them wherever possible.  Ultimately, no team can achieve their objectives if they are mired in these dysfunctions!

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