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Leading team learning – The 5 dysfunctions of a team

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Patrick Lencioni
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 12 minuuttia.

Executive Summary


According to research on the learning process and the acquisition of skills by McCall, Eichinger and Lombardo of the Center for Creative Leadership, 70% of our learning comes through practical experiences, 20% through social interactions and 10% through a so-called “formal” mechanism. This is called the 70-20-10 model. So, 20% of our learning comes from our interactions with others, so it’s important to foster the development of skills within teams. In this article, you will discover the importance of a team learning culture, but also how to lead learning by overcoming dysfunctions that the team may experience. As a teampreneur in a learning programme such as Team Academy, I would also like to share my experience of teamwork, as I am currently in Finland on exchange.




My WHY ?

How to lead team learning effectively?

This is a question I have been asking myself since the beginning of my Team Academy training, but more specifically since the beginning of my exchange in Tampere in the Proakatemia programme.

Indeed, since the beginning of January, I had the chance to join the Finnish Team Academy programme, more precisely in Tampere, called Proakatemia. Having had some changes since the last exchanges here, with my classmate Nicolas Mamassis we integrated the International 2ᵉ year team, Flip Solutions. During my stay, I also took the opportunity to travel to Jyväskylä to join and visit for a week the Tiimiakatemia programme (home of the Team Academy programme) so in total I was able to participate in sessions from 11 different learning teams.

Observing the main differences between our programmes and the integration of these teams during my exchange made me realise the importance of a learning team and the structure that can be given to it. These differences are mainly summarised in the structure, requirements and framework present in the programme, but also the vision of entrepreneurship differs between cultures. Coming from the Swiss programme, compared to other Team Academy programmes, we know more requirements to pass the semesters.


When I joined these different teams, international or Finnish, I could very quickly realise that we all experience the same thing, the same difficult moments, etc. But the way we approach it in Switzerland is different. But the way we deal with these moments as a team is totally different depending on the philosophy and knowledge of the members.


How can I, as a Swiss teampreneur, coming from a programme which, without any positive or negative judgement, is stricter and more structured, manage to make improvements, share experiences in order to make a contribution and, above all, learn as much as possible from it personally?

What is a learning team?

For more and more companies, collective learning could be one of the answers to the challenges of competitiveness and productivity. Learning organisation or even smart company are terms used when talking about an organisation that implements a set of practices and arrangements to support learning and development. There are several definitions of what a learning team is.

One of the best known is that of the American management professor and author Peter Senge who in 1990 popularised the concept through his book “The Fifth Discipline”. According to him, the learning organisation is “an organisation in which people continually develop their capacity to produce the results they desire, where new and expansive ways of thinking are fostered, where collective aspiration is unleashed, and where people continually learn to learn together”. (Senge, 1990)


Creating a team learning culture

According to Senge, the learning process can be divided into four levels. The first level focuses on learning facts, knowledge, processes and procedures. This level applies to situations that are well known or where the changes are minor. The second level is about learning new knowledge and applies to new situations where existing responses need to be changed. The use of theoretical support is useful in this area. The third level is learning to adapt, which applies to more dynamic situations, where the mode of learning is to experiment on one’s own and learn from successes and failures. The final level is learning to learn. It is more about innovation than simply adapting to it. It is in this context that deeply held assumptions, beliefs and perceptions are challenged and hypotheses are tested. (Palkiewicz)

A company or team that implements a learning culture must go through these steps to become a learning organisation, a learning team. As mentioned in the introduction, the focus is on developing the 20% for creating interaction with other members to learn as a team. Since a learning team is constantly evolving, it is seen more as a philosophy than a programme. A learning team is a concept of the continuous development of an organisation, its members, its capacities and skills to improve or create its own future.

(Kofman & Senge, 1993)



What about leadership?


In organisations or teams with a hierarchy, leadership needs to be adapted.

The ‘leader’ must foster an organisational culture that enables employees or the team to understand and believe in the vision, mission and values of their organisation. This culture will encourage employees/teams to do things because they want to, not because they have to. Team leaders should also foster a learning culture that is forward-looking and outward-looking. This is to encourage the free flow of information between clients and the team to improve the quality of service and products. The team must be allowed to collaborate with the outside world, crossing organisational boundaries to improve and develop their knowledge and skills. This change implies more autonomy within the team and therefore a change in leadership.

For a team to learn, however, it is essential to allow them to take risks. Allowing more freedom can bring many benefits in the form of creativity and innovation. One example is the so-called ‘research and development process’. (Yusoff, s.d.)


As with any change, there may be obstacles such as an entrenched mindset that is difficult to change, or a reluctance on the part of managers to train employees or to invest in training programmes.


While staying on the same topic, the following section focuses on the dysfunctions that drag a team down. I am going to present it to you because if we want our team to evolve in a healthy and learning environment, it is essential to know how to overcome these dysfunctions.


The 5 dysfunctions of a team – Patrick Lencioni

The author

Patrick Lencioni is an American author of books on business management, particularly team management. He is the founder and president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm specializing in executive team development and organizational health. As a consultant and speaker, he has worked with thousands of senior executives and their teams. Patrick has supported organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies and high-tech start-ups to universities and non-profit organizations. Patrick Lencioni is the author of 11 best-selling books, including “The Advantage and The Ideal Team Player.” (Lencioni)


The book

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a fable that tells the story of Kathryn Petersen, the new CEO of DecisionTech, a company that has very experienced management, more cash, better technology and a powerful board of directors and yet they lag behind their main competitors. Very quickly, Kathryn realises that there is dysfunction within the team. This slows down the productivity of the company. These five dysfunctions are presented in chronological order and the author uses the story to interpret them. In the second part of the book, “The Model”, which I am going to present to you, is detailed in a more theoretical way with some practical exercises.


The model

The 5 dysfunctions of a team are: lack of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, lack of individual and collective accountability, lack of focus on results. These dysfunctions feed on each other. Each is the result of a trap or temptation. For each one, a challenge can be taken up to avoid it and thus succeed in creating a collective where cohesion and performance are at stake.




Lack of trust

Trust is at the heart of team functioning and cohesion. Without it, teamwork is virtually impossible. The kind of trust that characterises a great team requires team members to make themselves vulnerable to each other and to be confident that their respective vulnerabilities will not be used against them. These vulnerabilities include weaknesses, skill gaps, interpersonal flaws, mistakes and requests for help. Trust based on vulnerability takes time, shared experiences, multiple examples of monitoring and credibility, and a deep understanding of team members. However, a team can build trust by using, for example, exercises such as the following

– Team effectiveness exercise. This asks team members to identify the most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team, and the area (skill) that they need to improve or eliminate for the good of the team.

– 360 degree feedback. This tool asks members to make specific judgements and give constructive criticism to each other.

The role of the leader in building trust.

The most important action a leader must take to encourage the development of trust in a team is to be vulnerable. This means taking the risk of losing face in front of the team, so that his or her subordinates will take the same risk. Team leaders must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability.



Fear of conflict

Teams that engage in productive conflict know that its only purpose is to find the best possible solution in the shortest time. They discuss and solve problems faster than other teams and they emerge from tense debates without negative feelings or collateral damage, but with a desire to tackle the next big problem. The first step in taming conflict is to recognise that conflict is productive and that many teams tend to avoid it. As long as some team members believe that conflict is unnecessary, it is unlikely to happen in a constructive way. There are some simple ways to make conflict more common and productive:

– Team members who tend to avoid conflict should try to take on the role of a “conflict miner” – someone who extracts buried disagreements within the team and brings them to light.

– Real-time permission. In the process of exploring conflict, team members need to train each other not to back down from a healthy debate. A simple but effective way to do this is to recognise when those involved in the conflict are becoming uncomfortable with the level of discord, and then interrupt them to remind them that what they are doing is necessary.

The role of the leader in overcoming the fear of conflict.

It is essential for leaders to step back when their people engage in conflict, and allow the other members to resolve it naturally. A leader’s ability to model appropriate behaviour in conflict is essential.


Lack of commitment

In a team, commitment depends on two things: clarity and buy-in. Great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with the full support of every team member, even those who voted against the decision. They leave meetings with the confidence that no one in the team has any doubts about supporting the actions decided upon.

The two main causes of lack of commitment are the desire for consensus and the need for certainty:

– Teams understand the danger of seeking consensus and find ways to get buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible. They understand that reasonable human beings do not need to get what they want in order to support a decision, but only need to know that their opinions have been heard and taken into account.

– Teams also pride themselves on being able to unite behind decisions and commit to a course of action, even if they are not sure that the decision is correct. They know that it is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong, and then change direction as boldly as to hesitate.

By taking steps to maximise clarity and gain buy-in, and by resisting the lure of consensus or certainty. Here are some simple but effective tools and principles:

– Milestones. One of the best tools for ensuring commitment is to set clear deadlines for decision making and to stick to these dates with discipline and rigour.

– Analysis of contingencies and worst-case scenarios. A team that is struggling to commit can begin to overcome this tendency by briefly discussing contingency plans at the outset or, better still, by clarifying the worst-case scenario for a decision they are struggling to make.

The role of the leader in developing commitment

More than any other team member, the leader needs to be comfortable with the prospect of making a decision that may turn out to be wrong. And he or she must encourage the team to solve problems and meet deadlines. What the leader cannot do is place too much emphasis on certainty or consensus.


Shirking responsibility

Accountability refers to the willingness of team members to call out other members for performance or behaviour that may be detrimental to the team.

Team members overcome these natural inclinations and choose instead to enter into “danger” with each other.

Members of great teams enhance their relationships by holding each other accountable, demonstrating that they respect each other and have high expectations of each other’s performance.

The most effective way to maintain high standards of performance in a team is through pressure from other team members, and there is nothing like the fear of disappointing respected teammates to motivate people to improve their performance.

There are some classic management tools to overcome this dysfunction:

– Publishing goals and standards. A good way to facilitate team member accountability is to publicly clarify what the team needs to achieve, who needs to deliver what, and how everyone needs to behave to succeed.

– Simple and regular progress reviews. Team members should communicate regularly with each other, verbally or in writing, about how their teammates are performing against the goals and standards set.


The role of the leader in building accountability

One of the most difficult challenges for a leader who wishes to hold a team accountable is to encourage and enable the team to serve as the first and primary accountability mechanism.

Once a leader has created a culture of accountability within a team, he or she must be prepared to serve as the arbiter of discipline when the team fails.

Indifference to the outcome

The final dysfunction in a team is the tendency of team members not to focus on collective goals. These are not limited to financial results, such as profits, revenues or team performance. This dysfunction has, according to Patrick Lencioni, a much broader definition of results, one that is related to results-based performance.

Every team specifies what it expects to achieve in a given period of time, and these objectives are controllable in the short term. Thus, while profit may be the ultimate measure of a company’s results, the goals and objectives that managers set along the way are a more representative example of the results that the company is striving to achieve as a team. Ultimately, these objectives are the source of the benefits. Team status and individual status are the main candidates.

For some team members, just being part of the group is enough to satisfy them. For them, achieving specific results may be desirable, but not necessarily worth great sacrifice or inconvenience.

– Individual status. A functional team must ensure that the collective results of the group are more important to each individual than the individual goals of the members. How can a team ensure that its attention is focused on results? By making outcomes clear and rewarding only those behaviours and actions that contribute to those outcomes.

The role of the leader in focusing a team on results

For other dysfunctions, the leader must set the tone for the team to focus on results. If team members sense that the leader is focusing on anything other than results, they will take this as permission to do the same for themselves. Team leaders need to be altruistic and objective, reserving rewards and recognition for those who really contribute to the group’s goals.


The Team Academy model


In a learning context such as the Team Academy model, teampreneurs are pushed not only to learn but also to undertake in teams. Formed randomly or specifically according to personality tests, the teams we form will have to collaborate during 3 or 3.5 years of training. It is therefore essential to create a solid foundation as a team so that we can evolve over three years and not move back and forth on the Lencioni pyramid.



My experience

I discovered the Lencioni pyramid at the beginning of the second year. Our coach Jean-Charles Rey challenged us on the commitment of our team. This challenge proved to be positive because the desire as a team to reach this level of the pyramid made us set milestones which also reinforced clarity and adhesion as presented above.

Having had the opportunity to go to Finland this semester for an exchange at Proakatemia in Tampere, I was able to participate in and integrate several teams and thus form my own opinion on team learning. International, Finnish or Swiss, we all probably experience the same situations in teams, no matter what year we are in. Each team has its own identity, its own values, its own rules, its own differences, but one essential point unites all the teams of the Team Academy, wherever they are in the world, and that is the desire to learn, to undertake.

For the past 2 years, Proakatemia has had an international team, i.e. a team made up of teampreneurs of multiple nationalities who do their studies entirely in English. It is therefore obvious that I joined this team as soon as I arrived. The difference between our respective programmes means that we all have different backgrounds and this creates an incredible wealth. It turned out that what I could bring to this team was my ‘theoretical’ knowledge and real-life experience of dealing with difficult moments in a team.

One of the things that was identified early on was that they were lacking confidence as a result of some difficult situations in the team and this put them at the bottom of the pyramid according to Lencioni. Through feedback, challenges, tools and especially through a more external view, I was able to contribute during this semester.

In my experience, one tool that can help learning teams climb the first two rungs is “Non Violent Communication”. Whether it is at the beginning of the session during the check-in (“tour de table” which allows a quick contact with the team. Everyone expresses their current state of mind, an emotion or something else they want to share), or in feedback.

If you want to know more about NVC I encourage you to read the book “Nonviolent Communcation” by Marshall B. Rosenberg.


By integrating and sharing my experience and learnings during my exchange I have inspired learning teams regarding their evolution but especially measuring the impact after about four months of implementation, discussion on the subject by questioning the team on the first steps of the pyramid and the evolution of the team during this period. The results are positive and this is more than satisfying on a personal level. By sharing my knowledge which is different from what other teampreneurs may have, I have also been able to learn in return and develop as a member of a learning team. This remains one of the key skills of the Team Academy training.


To conclude


The reality is that teamwork is about putting principles into practice over a long period of time. Success is not a matter of mastering subtle and sophisticated theory, but rather of adopting common sense with unusual levels of discipline and persistence.

Ironically, teams succeed because they are extremely human. By recognising the imperfections of their humanity, team members overcome the natural tendencies that make trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and focus on results so difficult to achieve.


Each team perceives its development differently depending on its expectations, goals and members but these tools presented allow for a practical application that can help at any time no matter what status the team is in.


“Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.” Peter Senge



Senge, P. (1990). La cinquième discipline .

Yusoff, M. S. (s.d.). Cairn.info. Récupéré sur https://www.cairn.info/revue-internationale-des-sciences-administratives-2005-3-page-497.htm

Lencioni, P. (s.d.). The five dysfunction of a team.

Palkiewicz, J. (s.d.). How to run a learning organisation? Revue Internationale.




[1] https://slidemodel.com/templates/70-20-10-approach-to-learning-powerpoint-template/70-20-10-rule-learning-approach-powerpoint/

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