The five dysfunctions of a team
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
The five dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni
Book reflection by Y. Podolskaya and V. Markunas
The book Five dysfunctions of a team was chosen for our Proakatemia team as a reading assignment. To our surprise, despite working with each other for less than two months at that point, the team was already showing some signs of an unhealthy working group. This issue became concerning because one of the core values that Proakatemia promotes is that proper teamwork could be one if not the main competitive advantage. So, it was decided to act quickly and find external guidance to help recognize the problems while they were still in the early phase and were easy to overcome. The book is written in a format of a leadership fable, which exposes a typical yet valuable story about flawed teamwork and broken communication within that team. If one tries to be open–minded and unbiased it will uncover a huge insight into their own behavior in a team, show which habits and social patterns could be toxic and damaging both in the group and individual working life. However, in our opinion, the book is not a guide on how to solve problems that exist in a dysfunctional team, but it gives assistance on how to expose typical behavioral standards embedded in humans which may lead to a dysfunctional team. Because the material given in the book is theoretically easy to understand but the real challenge comes when trying to implement the theory into practice.
Now we would like to list every dysfunction and describe it in brief and then discuss it in more detail and give a personal reflection on the subject.
Lencioni presents five dysfunctions as a pyramid, stating that each dysfunction is building on top of the previous one.
- Absence of trust
Trust issues lead to the illusion of invulnerability: the fear of being vulnerable creates an atmosphere of mutual distrust and suspicion
- Fear of conflict
Lack of trust leads to the fear openly express your opinion, that is critically important for having constructive, ideological conflicts without which team creates artificial harmony
- Lack of commitments
An ambiguity of decisions as a result of lack of trust and fear to speak out loud allows feeling commitment–free to team members
- Avoidance of accountability
Making decisions to which they are indifferent, team members do not consider themselves or their colleagues to be bound by any obligations
- Inattention to results
The last dysfunction is a result of irresponsibility and undemanding when own status and ego become more important than team goals
Why even the most talented teams lose without coordinated work? Usually, team members spend their time overcoming internal conflicts and that decreases team morale, loss of concentration and valuable players. On the example of a once successful Decision Tech company, it is seen that despite the presence of experienced top management, lack of harmonious work led to difficulties with engaging new customers and keeping existing ones. In a group of ambitious and successful people, their ego interferes with the main goal of a team, as people compete against each other.
- Absence of trust
Trust and respect are the foundation of any relationship including teamwork. But why is it so important? For the team development team members should trust each other; according to Lencioni people working in one collective should be able to discuss openly even the most complex and sensitive issues. By doing this the best solution to any kind of a problem can be found quickly and will be accepted by each team member. Without a certain level of trust important issues can be ignored what will lead to incorrect decisions.
How to build the desired level of trust inside the team? Nowadays people learn to be competitive and define their own interests, it is not easy to voluntary make yourself vulnerable to others. People create a base of trusting work relationship by being able to openly discuss their flaws, weaknesses, mistakes without fear of being judged or misunderstood. Knowing colleague’s background and understanding where they are coming from helps to understand their world perception and particularly their work behavior.
But reflecting on any team, it is possible to say that each one of them is made up of humans who tend to be imperfect and it is naive to expect an individual to open up in the company. Even though teams in Proakatemia put sufficient amount of effort towards team building and confidential atmosphere in premises, in our opinion it takes more than work relations to completely open up.
Patrick Lencioni suggests that the team leader should encourage and motivate the rest of the group to count on each other by being the first one to step out of the comfort zone and confess their fears, flaws or secrets.
2. Fear of conflict
It is something that exists in our own team. No matter how high we think the level of trust in the team is, the lack of it is still the reason for absence of conflict. Fear of hurting an individual’s feelings or screwing up personal relationship stands on the way to expressing own ideas and visions that may be beneficial to the company but somehow contradict to those of others.
Conflict is usually associated with such negative emotions as discomfort and stress and it is understandable that nobody is willing to experience those emotions and rather choose not to by avoiding any arguments. But what is important to understand that conflict is just a tool to facilitate a passionate debate and generation of ideas, which in the end leads to growth. It has nothing to do with personal goals or ego, an individual in this situation is not able to win an argument because the initial goal is keeping the team efficient and that should be the result.
Another important result of a healthy conflict is that it breaks down the hierarchies. Although a team may aim at equality, hierarchies still appear unintentionally. And it is common, as some people are more authoritarian by nature and tend to have more leadership skills than the others. And on the other hand, there are people who like to be guided and not comfortable with making decisions that can hold them accountable. Conflict makes both parties step out of their comfort zone and helps build an inclusive culture within a team.
3. Lack of commitments
How many times during team meetings or business discussions decisions were not made, but only disputed? One of the main signs of the great team is the ability to make decisions and stick to them. It is known that in business any decision is better than its absence, especially when it comes to important issues. It is necessary to follow the decisions made, otherwise uncertainty and inconsistency are born leading to split in goals and priorities.
In the outstanding team, everyone can and should take part in the discussion. It is always difficult to reach an agreement, because there are different points of view and opinions. It is possible to come up with the solution which will satisfy everyone, but usually it is ineffective. For great teams, consensus means that everyone is aware what is the ultimate goal, even if they are disagree with the decision. However, in our team in Proakatemia we managed to get to the point when the decision process is held in the form of the dialogue and even when we have individuals with the different from the major point of view the team is able to find the compromise which will satisfy everyone.
During the discussion everyone should be able to express their opinion and be heard; sometimes being heard and understood is already enough. Reasonable people often do not insist on their opinion, but more than satisfied when the point is taken into account or developed further. Uniting of the team happens when people fully follow the decision made, even if they fully opposed it at first.
4. Avoidance of accountability
Another dysfunction that could lead to harmful consequences. Some of them include loss of motivation, lowering of standards and acceptance of mediocre results, missing deadlines and reducing performance, together with creating tension and ruining personal relationships among team members. Accountability means making sure that everybody is on the same page and performing according to the standards of the group. If a certain decision, deadline or schedule is ignored by anyone in the teams it is a clear sign of accountability avoidance.
Having a clear set of rules is essential for this matter. If there is a certain set of behaviors accepted by the whole team, it is easier to call someone out for not following them. Thus, the remark cannot be taken personally and cannot ruin the relationship among both parties, as rules are equal and were agreed to follow by each member of a team.
Great engine which will promote shared accountability is healthy peer pressuring and feedback. When an individual is afraid of losing their face in front of their colleagues it will make them more disciplined and help stay on track. Giving and receiving constructive feedback is also vital in a successful team. Members should keep in mind that feedback is never personal. It is neither used to point out flaws and offend someone, nor flatter or compliment. But it is a way to facilitate an increase of efficiency while reflecting on and improving the performance of individuals.
5. Inattention to results
That is the fact that effective teams aim for a collective result: goals that they want to achieve, including development of a new product or winning a basketball tournament. And understanding that the collective goal should be prioritized more than personal aims is essential for members of an outstanding team.
If pursuit of personal goals is prioritized by team members more than a common aim, the team loses its competitive advantage and members begin devoting attention to the personal career. At the end, the situation exacerbated even more, because the best “players’ leave the team to the more effective ones.
According to P. Lencioni well defined and easily measurable goals support team commitment. If the expected results are obvious and do not require decoding, the team member will not be able to abandon the general goals for personal and complete the given task. The clear vision of final goals allows teammates to support each other and be aware of all possible struggles.
Although the team goals are important, the individual should not give up on own aims and ambitions and should not be judged by other team members for pursuing personal growth, because otherwise respect and trust in the team lose its power. Instead there should be a healthy balance so that team and individual could gain from each other.
It is not easy to tell what makes the team great, but it is surely not enough just to have a group of professionals in it. Efficient teamwork is a powerful competitive advantage but what makes it so compelling is that often it requires a huge amount of effort to reach this level of proficiency. Trust, constructive and healthy conflict, sticking to accepted rules and decisions, shared accountability and loyalty to the common goal makes the base for excellent and highly effective team.