Overcoming Team Dysfunctions

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

                                         – STEPHEN R. COVEY

If only we never had to worry about conflict with other people in our jobs. Unfortunately, as anyone in the workplace knows, dysfunction follows us into work and breeds in a team environment. Some of our co-workers, superiors, or employees we trust implicitly; others we attempt to stay away from or experience friction with. Regardless, our book of the week delves into the important topic of tough team conversations.

Book of the Week: Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni.

Patrick Lencioni takes an unconventional approach to writing a business book about conflict: rather than take the subject head-on (what you might expect from someone courageous enough to write about conflict in the workplace), he weaves his insight into a story.

This approach to unpacking what he identifies are the major five dysfunctions of team dynamics has the clever result of being both disarming and engaging. If the reader had thoughts of being skeptical or defensive, it is difficult to stay that way when watching the dynamics in play behind a common situation.

Lencioni makes the bold claim that if you can get everyone on your team to “row in the same direction” so to speak, you can be unstoppable. Plowing through the five dysfunctions are a critical part of this:

The Five Dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of Trust

As obvious as it sounds, the routine erosion of trust in the workplace between team members is a recipe for failure. There should be far more confidence in each other, specifically in each person’s intentions. Without trust, Lencioni believes people hide their weaknesses, fail to help, fail to ask for help, assume the worst, and don’t recognize the underlying gifts that could help the team. Lencioni’s solution here is to set up time to learn each other’s personal histories: he believes it is extremely difficult to write another person off when you know their story and the experiences that shaped the conclusions they’ve drawn. He also points this out as a great opportunity to delve into a behavioral assessment like DiSC to fill in the picture. To know each other better is to open the door to trust.

  1. Fear of Conflict

In the fable, Lencioni portrays the fear of conflict as one of the deepest motives for dysfunction. Importantly, he draws the distinction between two types of conflict: conflict over ideas and opinions (good and productive) and infighting and political jockeying (bad and counterproductive). He points out throughout the book that good conflict, the testing of ideas, leads to better, more interactive meetings, bigger ideas, more problem solving, heightened creativity, fewer politics as more voices are being heard, and a true addressing of important topics.

  1. Lack of Commitment

For a truly successful team, Lencioni points out two things that a strong team needs, a) clarity, and b) buy-in. When there is increased clarity and lines are not blurred (or there are no defining lines at all!), a team will inevitably have more direction about what to do and greater vision about what the priorities are. This leads to a growing consensus about the division of labor and the true goals, and you begin to learn from tactical errors together. This more agile team grows in commitment and is clear in its communication of what future decisions need to be made—together.

  1. Avoidance of Accountability

As the team opens up, the fourth dysfunction comes under fire, the avoidance of accountability. Positive peer pressure heats up, and it is a great way to maintain high standards. When team members are divided by the few who carry the team in their conscientiousness and those who ride on the work of others and make excuses, resentment becomes entrenched and hard to shake. Lencioni believes that a team with greater clarity and trust will be willing to experience more discomfort and are more likely to be held willingly to mutual goals.

  1. Inattention to Results

Given what the other dysfunctions are, it may surprise you that Lencioni views this as the ultimate dysfunction, the one that, if it sticks around, will undo your hard-earned wins in the others. When team members and leaders are too self-motivated to see the bigger picture or are simply confining themselves to their cube, this precludes failure. On the other hand, if you announce publicly what your desired state is and what result that produces, the end produce is more likely to be there. He suggests a public scoreboard as a valuable way to keep everyone out of their own heads and focused on the bigger objective.

Engaging, easy to read, and thought-provoking, we encourage you to dive deeper into Lencioni’s five dysfunctions as a way to examine what even a good team can improve upon.