The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Summary
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  • Jonno White

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Summary



I'm passionate about helping people to achieve their potential, that's why I love building teams so much. When a team, particularly a leadership team, is healthy, everyone wins. The leader's life is infinitely improved (trust me, from experience!), the team members are able to step up and step into everything they need to do as part of the team and the organisation's employees, customers, clients, volunteers and other stakeholders get the very best from the organisation.

But HOW do you build a team? Where do you start? Why are some teams so effective? And other teams so ineffective?! Patrick Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is his most well-known book and it's easy to see why when you read it. I picked it up and was so hungry for answers to those questions that I read it in a matter of hours late through the night into the early morning. His pyramid of 5 dysfunctions of a team is simple but powerful. It will help you understand how to build a healthy team and, more importantly, give you some next steps to actually go and do it.

Here is a very brief summary of Lencioni's pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid is the first dysfunction of a team - absence of trust. Invulnerability is the outcome of an absence of trust in any team. Overcoming it requires courage and some people just won’t have the character or inclination to ‘go there’. Basically, a team with an absence of trust is stuck here. All the other levels build on trust and vulnerability.

The second dysfunction of a team is fear of conflict. Teams that can’t disagree about important ideas simply won’t make the best decisions. As a result, these teams end up with artificial harmony where people nod and smile in meetings but go away feeling disempowered, frustrated and confused. Ever been there?

The third dysfunction of a team is lack of commitment. It stands to reason that if a team doesn’t have the trust and vulnerability for people to say what they really think and how they really feel, then how can you expect team members to be 100% bought-in? People who have had an authentic say and been part of a robust discussion are infinitely more likely to commit to the outcome, even if they disagree. That’s right. Healthy teams master an incredibly rare principle that Lencioni says originates from the company Intel: ‘disagree and commit’. On the other hand, where a lack of commitment exists, ambiguity is the result.

The fourth dysfunction of a team is avoidance of accountability. If people haven’t truly bought-in, then how deeply can they be held accountable? Great, healthy teams have a culture where there is accountability. Not just by the leader, but peer-to-peer accountability. Where teams avoid accountability, low standards flourish. Ever seen an awesome, gold-star team member leave a team out of frustration because of low standards caused by avoidance of accountability of other team members? Ever been that team member who’s left out of frustration? Ahem. Avoid accountability and you’ll get low standards and watch your team members with the most potential … leave.

The fifth dysfunction of a team is inattention to results. I think of it this way. When a team is pretty dysfunctional (most teams), the natural tendency is to accept reality and focus on your piece of the puzzle. That’s rational, but it’s not what happens in great, healthy teams. Inattention to results means the team isn’t really collectively on the same page and going in the same direction. Lencioni says inattention to results breeds individual ego. As people get frustrated and focus on their thing, focus on the collective result is actually damaged and silos are created instead of a together culture.

So, what about the team you lead? Or the team you're a part of? Any invulnerability, artificial harmony, ambiguity, low standards and/or individual egos and silos in your world? The truth is, no team is perfect. Let me encourage you to do the journey with your team. The incredibly difficult slog to change these things is so, so worth it when you see the results. People are worth it. And, by the way, you know how you're thinking about getting started? Well, here's step one—YOU invest the time to learn how to better lead or contribute to your team. The good news is, that's what you're doing by reading this blog. Just the fact that you're here, interested in Lencioni's 5 dysfunctions of a team says that you're teachable. Go for it!

And please reach out and let me know how you're going, what you're learning and any stories along the way. I'd love to hear from you.

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