The 5 dysfunctions of a team

Feb 16, 2022

 

We live in an increasingly complex world, where companies need to be much more agile in their organizational structures and more accelerated in their growth to compete. That is why it is essential to create effective teams that support an organization and drive results. Yet, this is one of the most challenging areas for leaders to manage. 

Patrick Lencioni, in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a team”, identifies very clear patterns in behavioral tendencies that lead to the majority of team failures within an organization. Lencioni explores the root causes of all the problems you can face as a leader when you’re trying to pull your team in the same direction.

Through the work of iCatalyze, we’ve had the chance to coach and advise companies and executives on how to better manage their teams and drive performance. Based on this experience, here’s a description of each of the 5 dysfunctions and some suggestions on what you can do as a leader to confront them:

 

Dysfunction 1: Absence of trust.

 Trust, although it sounds cliche, is the most important foundation for fostering an effective and successful team. So, when there is no trust, we see the first dysfunction that Lencioni mentions in his theory. This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with each other, as the natural tendency is to hide their mistakes and weaknesses from their peers and bosses. In addition to hiding these weaknesses among themselves, it is characterized by not asking for help outside their own areas of responsibility; they waste time and energy trying to look good, they hold grudges and fear meetings, and they find reasons to avoid spending time together, among others.

The proposed solution is that as a manager you should set an example by asking team members for help; being the first to admit mistakes, giving the benefit of the doubt, offering assistance to others, taking into account the skills and experience of others, and spending time on issues that are important to the team. The premise is that when the leader takes the initiative, others will follow. Gradually these habits will become part of the culture and the base of the pyramid defined by the author will get stronger.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of conflict.

 Because each member of a team is different and has diverse viewpoints, it is normal for conflicts to happen. This second dysfunction becomes more evident when it is linked to a lack of trust, since a team that lacks trust will also be afraid of confrontation, and few will feel comfortable expressing their ideas, especially if they are opposing views. Many confuse confrontation with discussion and prefer to avoid it, and when no one expresses themselves in the group, there is only an artificial harmony and the problem is never addressed.

It is precisely these constructive conflicts that lead to progress. Lencioni’s solution is to point out that conflict is welcome and productive. It is important for teams to recognize this openly to be able to generate meetings that allow for healthy discussion, ​​training members so that they listen to differing opinions and learn to work through the discomfort of the conversation to come out with a decision at the end. Sometimes, people will need to “disagree and commit” and maintain the goals of the team above individual preferences. 

 

Dysfunction 3: Lack of commitment. 

If there is clarity about decisions and acceptance of those decisions required from the team, great things can happen. Without conflict, it is difficult for members to commit to decisions because they won’t feel they were part of the decision-making process and won’t take ownership. This creates an environment of ambiguity about direction and priorities, over-analyzing and acting without energy, creating lack of confidence and fear of failure, fostering assumptions among team members.

Some ideas to mitigate the lack of commitment are to create clarity around the direction and priorities; you also need to align the entire team towards common goals, develop the ability to learn from mistakes, and take advantage of opportunities before your competitors do. Clarity is essential to overcome this challenge and go to the next level.

 

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of accountability.

 Accountability is the penultimate level of the Five Dysfunctions of a team. Although this is a characteristic that is often assigned to someone individually, the team also needs accountability as a whole. A team that avoids accountability doesn’t call each other out when they are not meeting expectations of goals. This can breed resentment among team members who achieve high standards, foster mediocrity, and lead to missed deadlines and falling short of goals. A team with this dysfunction relies on the leader as the sole source of accountability.

On the other hand, an accountable team ensures that poor performers feel pressure to improve, identifies potential problems quickly, establishes respect among team members, and avoids excessive bureaucracy over management development and corrective action.

In the context of a team, accountability involves calling out colleagues for any behavior that could harm the team. Few teams, however, are willing to do this to avoid difficult conversations that could put personal relationships on the line.

 

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results.

An important dysfunction to look out for is the tendency of members to care about everything except the collective results of the team. They may care more about their individual tasks than the team. Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, professional development, recognition, etc.) before the collective goals of the team when individuals are not accountable.

There are a number of reasons why team members may be focused on something other than results: for some, being part of the team is enough to keep them satisfied; for others, focusing on their own career and status is more important than the results the team generates.

When teams have a strong foundation of trust, healthy conflict, team commitment and responsibility, and are recognized within the company for their performance through praise or rewards, it will be easier for team members to put aside their own needs for the good of the team.

A team that focuses on results: retains achievement-oriented employees, minimizes individualistic behavior, benefits individuals who sacrifice their own goals/interests for the good of the team, and avoids distractions.

 

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