The Five Dysfunctions of a Team | Notes

Posted on March 20, 2008


Patrick Lencioni. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Jossey-Bass, 2002. (229 pages)

Five Dysfunctions Book Cover


Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. (vii)

If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.

The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional. (vii)

The Fable


Part One: Underachievement

Part Two: Lighting the Fire

Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal. (44)

Why do you suppose there is so little passionate discussion or debate among this group?

Basically, I want you all to do two things: be present and participate. That means everyone needs to be fully engaged in whatever we’re talking about. (50)

…spend five minutes deciding what they believed were their single biggest strength and weakness in terms of their contribution. (64)

…the ultimate dysfunction: the tendency of team members to seek out individual recognition and attention at the expense of results. And I’m referring to collective results–the goals of the entire team. (71)

The key is to make the collective ego greater than the individual ones. (72)

…[my] job is to create the best team possible, not to shepherd the careers of individual athletes. (74)

Our job is to make the results that we need to achieve so clear to everyone in this room that no one would even consider doing something purely to enhance his or her individual status or ego. (77)

The key, of course, is to define our goals, our results, in a way that is simple enough to grasp easily, and specific enough to be actionable. (78)

…when I talk about focusing on results instead of individual recognition, I’m talking about everyone adopting a set of common goals and measurements, and then actually using them to make collective decisions on a daily basis. (82)

[There is a difference between a “team” and a “collection of individuals.”] (83)

Yeah, it does seem like we don’t really have the same goals in mind when we’re at staff meetings. It almost feels like we’re all lobbying for more resources for our departments, or trying to avoid getting involved in anything outside our own areas.

The politics around here are astounding, and they’re a result of everyone being far too ambiguous about what we’re all trying to accomplish, and that makes it easy to focus on individual success. (85)

Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think. (88)

…[what is] needed in order to provoke real change in the group: honest resistance. (89)

If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony. (91)

Harmony itself is good, I suppose, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict. But if it comes only as a result of people holding back their opinions and honest concerns, then it’s a bad thing. I’d trade that false kind of harmony any day for a team’s willingness to argue effectively about an issue and then walk away with no collateral damage. (92)

The point here is that most reasonable people don’t have to get their way in a discussion. They just need to be heard, and to know that their input was considered and responded to. (95)

…[people] need to weigh in before they can really buy in. (96)

Part Three: Heavy Lifting

Some people are hard to hold accountable because they are so helpful. Others because they get defensive. Others because they are intimidating. (148)

You are fighting. But about issues. That’s your job. Otherwise, you leave it to your people to try to solve problems that they can’t solve. They want you to hash this stuff out so they can get clear direction from us. (170)

Part Four: Traction

I don’t think anyone ever gets completely used to conflict. If it’s not a little uncomfortable, then it’s not real. The key is to keep doing it anyway. (175)

The Model

As difficult as it is to build a cohesive team, it is not complicated. In fact, keeping it simple is critical, whether you run the executive staff at a multi-national company, a small department within a larger organization, or even if you are merely a member of a team that needs improvement.

An Overview of the Model

First, genuine teamwork in most organizations remains as elusive as it has ever been. Second, organizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls, which I call the five dysfunctions of a team. (187)

Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Model (pdf).

Team Assessment

Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Assessment (pdf).

Understanding and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions

Dysfunction 1: Absence of Trust

[Overcoming dysfunction 1] requires shared experiences over time, multiple instances of follow-through and credibility, and an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of team members. (197)

Personal Histories Exercise. Questions need not be overly sensitive in nature and might include the following: number of siblings, hometown, unique challenges of childhood, favorite hobbies, first job, and worst job. (198)

Team Effectiveness Exercise. It requires team members to identify the single most important contribution that each of their peers makes to the team, as well as the one area that they must either improve upon or eliminate for the good of the team. (198)

Personality and Behavioral Preference Profiles.

360-Degree Feedback. The key to making a 360-degree program work, in my opinion, is divorcing it entirely from compensation and formal performance evaluation. Rather, it should be used as a developmental tool, one that allows employees to identify strengths and weaknesses without any repercussions. (200)

Experietial Team Exercises. Ropes courses, etc.

Even on a strong team–and perhaps especially so–atrophy can lead to the erosion of trust. (201)

The Role of the Leader. The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. (201)

Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict

All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. (202)

The first step is acknowledging that conflict is productive. (203)

The Role of the Leader. One of the most difficult challenges that a leader faces in promoting healthy conflict is the desire to protect members from harm. (206)

Therefore, it is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict, and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. … a leader’s ability to personally model appropriate conflict behavior is essential. (206)

Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment

…commitment is a function of two things: clarity and buy-in. … The two greatest causes of the lack of commitment are the desire for consensus and the need for certainty.

Consensus. Great teams understand the danger of seeking consensus, and find ways to achieve buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible. (207)

Certainty. A decision is better than no decision. …it is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong–and then change direction with equal boldness–than it is to waffle. | Contrast this with the behavior of dysfunctional teams that try to hedge their best and delay important decisions until they have enough data to feel certain that they are making the right decision. As prudent as this might seem, it is dangerous because of the paralysis and lack of confidence it breeds within a team. (208)

Cascading Messaging. …explicitly review the key decisions made during the meeting, and agree on what needs to be communicated to employees or other constituencies about those decisions. (210)

Deadlines. …honor those dates with discipline and rigidity. (210-211)

Contingency and Worst-Case Scenario Analysis. …discuss contingency plans up front or, better yet, clarifying the worst-case scenario for a decision they are struggling to make. (211)

Low-Risk Exposure Therapy.

The Role of the Leader. …the leader must be comfortable with the prospect of making a decision that ultimately turns out to be wrong. (212)

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of Accountability

The essence of this dysfunction is the unwillingness of team members to tolerate the interpersonal discomfort that accompanies calling a peer on his or her behavior and the more general tendency to avoid difficult conversations. (212-213)

Publication of Goals and Standards.

Simple and Regular Progress Reviews.

Team Rewards.

The Role of the Leader. …encourage and allow the team to serve as the first and primary accountability mechanism. (215)

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results

…outcome-based performance. (216)

Public Declaration of Results.

Results-Based Rewards.



Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results so elusive. (220)