Five Dysfunctions of a Team and its applications in real life situations
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Written by Tao Daniel & Pauliina Waters
To read the book ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2002) was a task given by our team leader so we can discuss it within our team and learn from it. This started a good discussion and we decided to reflect this even further by comparing the book to different teams we have worked in. The five dysfunctions are: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.
This book explained the said five dysfunctions in a storytelling way, with a fictional company and characters. It had all different kinds of people and situations that we have seen in various teams we have been a part of. This essay compares the fiction of Patrick Lencioni with our team experience. Each of those teams had good and bad sides, and their performance was all related to how the team managed the five dysfunctions of a team.
Team A was one of those teams where the only common goal was a personal goal, there was no team spirit within each member, but they all knew that they needed to work together to achieve that goal. In that situation, the common goal was to pass academic courses in order to earn their credits. When the team came to life, the members agreed on working equally on the tasks and everyone would be accountable for their own work. If someone missed a task, they would have to work for it until the team decides when it is good enough. This method was working well in the given situation, but only well. There was no “excellent”, no “perfect”, and the reason for that was that the team was highly detached from their persons. This fact was good for the team because it avoided any kind of dispute or argument on the choices of one of the decisions of another. But it also affected the team in a way that members lost their motivations by having no other goal than passing the courses. Nobody in the team really thought about self-development within the team or any kind of team building, and after days an atmosphere that nobody really wanted to be here took place, even though all members tried to hide their feelings to keep the work going.
This team was empty of emotion and most members wanted to keep it this way to avoid conflict and rush to the end goal. Reflecting on the five dysfunctions of a team, team A had a pretty good trust toward each other regarding work and deadline, which allowed them to keep a decent work level during the time. However, the fear of conflict prevented the team to reach a high level of efficiency, because members would be afraid to tell what they think and would grow that frustration in a way that people lose motivation and do not look forward to the best they can achieve.
Team B was a team where everything was basically a huge mess. The team had huge problems in every area of their functionality and if something worked well, it was very rare. The team was more like a group of people than a unified team. The biggest problems the team had were poor communication, lack of accountability, and putting the team’s goals behind personal things and goals. The team members blamed each other when facing a problem (there were many) but failed to see the bigger picture and trying to find real reasons for the problems. There was also a lot of disrespect during meetings: people speaking on top of each other, fiddling with their phones or laptops, and just not showing up for no reason.
The team had all of the earlier mentioned dysfunctions, but they were stuck on the first one, the absence of trust. The author mentions in the book that “if we do not trust one another, then we are not going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict”. This was absolutely true in Team B’s case: the team had a lot of conflicts but without trust, they were meaningless, they did not get solved and the team could not move forward.
Maybe the reason behind the ineffectiveness and other problems of the team was cultural differences, different priorities, or just a fact that the team members have not been used to working so intensively in a group like this. There were also no teambuilding tools or exercises used within the team. Even though the team members almost only have bad memories, it was a great learning experience, since there was diversity in the team. Some people were more doers and others were innovators. The team also had members of different nationalities, which gave the team the possibility to work in an international environment.
Team C was built out of friendship, this team included people who knew each other and had learned beforehand how to work with the other members. From the very beginning, each member established a high level of trust within the group and pretty much overcame the four first dysfunctions of a team. There was no fear of conflict, every member was open to discuss on conflict and tension points and would be accountable for their actions. If something went wrong in the team, the members would talk about it and solve the problem within the same day. Each of the members experienced a lack of commitment from other members in different teams and therefore wanted to bring good energy and motivation in team C so the whole team would feel good and keep working hard on every given task. Unfortunately, the team had one flaw, there was no timeline, no bigger goal, and nothing to look forward to.
This team is very different from what we can find in the book, this team was not part of a company, there was no goal nor a big picture. The team was not a bigger “entity” composed of singular individuals like every good company should be and what Kathryn established in the book. This team was just a bunch of friends put together to fulfill common tasks they had in their life.
The team was very performant in the short term, but talking about business, start-up, and profit, this team would still miss the big goal that drives all the companies to move forward and accomplish big things. However, it is maybe for the best that the team wasn’t in the mindset of a company, it is complicated to mix friendship and business and it is sometimes better to keep them in different cases.
Team D was a team that dedicated themselves to improving their teamwork constantly. They understood that teamwork and trust is not something you establish once and then leave it like that. It is a continuous process to maintain good team spirit, work ethics, communication, and trust. The team did not have complete trust when establishing their team, everyone maybe had a “fake it till you make it” kind of mentality. But through team exercises and individual tasks, the trust started to build up. The team members had some different visions of what the team should accomplish and what is the reason behind the team’s actions and decisions, that did not always come together. Still, the commitment of team members as individuals was mutual, even though there was room for improvement.
The team had effectively found good communication tools and guidelines on how different kinds of topics should be handled. The face-to-face conversations flowed greatly, even though there was a rocky start to the team’s dialogue skills. The team had improved a lot from the first day when the team was seriously established, after some practice, the discussion was flowing, and possible conflicts were addressed. Team members were accountable for their own mistakes and they were discussed accordingly. The team improved their trust between one and other through different exercises that were also used in the book, e.g. sharing something personal from your childhood. The team was also very diverse with different nationalities and various experiences from different business areas.
Like in every point made in the chapter, the team had established great teamwork habits, the team was helping and genuinely caring for each other. but there was still a lot to improve like there are in every team. Taking baby steps is a way to start establishing trust and proper team “work mode”; you cannot go full-on sharing your deepest darkest secrets since people are different.
The teams described above are all very different: others were functional, others were not. They all have good and bad sides. Even though there are dysfunctions, it does not necessarily mean it is a bad thing: it is bad at that point when the team does nothing about fixing the dysfunctions going on in their team. “A fractured team is just like a broken arm or leg; fixing it is always painful, and sometimes you have to rebreak it to make it heal correctly. And the rebreak hurts a lot more than the initial break, because you have to do it on purpose” (2002, p. 37). This means that sometimes it is necessary to break the team again if there are problems in the already established team. If a team wants to be efficient, they need to go through every dysfunction to improve on the issues they might be facing. These dysfunctions and the real teams explained in this essay are a huge learning experience for someone who has been and wants to work in a great team.
Lencioni, P. 2002. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. 1st Edition. The United States: Jossey-Bass