Literature/202210011658 the five dysfunctions of a team

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Lencioni identifies 5 dysfunctions that can limit the effectiveness of a team. In his words: "How come that even if we have a superior product, a more capable marketing team, and the best sales people, we are lagging behind the competition."

  • Absence of Trust Although very superficial regarding the definition of trust (see: build trust in a team), it is easy to understand that absence of trust can very easily get in the way. Teams without trust will hide weaknesses and problems. An indication of thus dysfunction is how often people see value in meetings. The leader can show vulnerability in order to open up the behaviour in others. However, there is always the risk of losing face. An exercise to increase trust is to share personal stories.
  • Fear of Conflict In a team without trust, there will not be productive conflict. In this case, conflict is intended as a discussion of ideas, and not personal attacks. There is also a false idea that avoiding conflict saves time and therefore it is more efficient that way. There is the concept of 'mining for conflict' that can be used to shed light on hidden conflicts and guide a team through their resolution. It is important to be aware of when team members get discomfortable, and work on the discomfort. The leader must be aware of not protecting the team from conflict (which is a natural reaction).
  • Lack of commitment Main causes for this dysfunction are: need for consensus, which means people need to have everyone agreeing on what needs to be done. Need for certainty, sometimes decisions are taken with incomplete information. (See: Take decisions with incomplete information, and indecision freeze). To overcome the lack of commitment, there are simple measures to be put in place. After group meetings, it is important to clarify the decisions taken. It is also important to make it clear that not all may have agreed, but they will commit to the decisions. Having clear deadlines on when a decision will be made is also important. Ambiguity is the worst for a team that is having a hard time committing. Worst case scenario analysis can be a good first step for team with problems committing. Especially if it is discussed upfront. The leader must show that they know how to deal with wrong decisions and move forward. Also adherence to schedules.
  • Avoidance of accountability It stems from team members unable to call other team members on their behaviours. It is related to a more general tendency to avoid difficult conversations. Holding each other accountable is hard, because it may be seen as a way of jeopardising personal relationships. Peer pressure is the most effective way to maintain high standards. A tool to overcome this dysfunction is to make goals and standards public (see: literature/202112050851 Why implementing OKRs). Simple and regular progress reviews. Team rewards. The leader must be the first and primary accountability mechanism.
  • Inattention to Results The dysfunction starts with teams that are interested at something else than the collective results and objectives (this seems very similar to what is proposed with OKRs: literature/202112050837 Definition of OKRs). Instead of results, people may focus on team status, meaning that belonging to a team is enough. This happens in non-profits, academic environments, etc. in which the mission has a weight above the achieved results. The other is individual status, which essentially means people who want to achieve things for themselves (like a promotion) more than the results of the collective. To overcome it, tools are: public declaration of results, and results-based rewards. Although the first point relates to OKRs , the second is in direct contradiction with them. The leader must lead by example, and show that results are the only thing they look at.


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Aquiles Carattino
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