Issue # 6 - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

by Randi Brenowitz

Issue # 6

Brenowitz Consulting is pleased to bring you this issue of Tools for Teams, our bi-monthly electronic newsletter.

Each issue will explore one of the central themes of today's challenging business environment. We will present our current thinking, relevant readings, book reviews, and other resources--all designed to give you practical tools to improve productivity through teamwork and collaboration

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Issue # 6 – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002), Patrick Lencioni presents a leadership fable revealing five factors that go to the very heart of why so many teams struggle.  This is the same technique that Lencioni used in his two best-selling books, The Five Temptations of a CEO and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive--and it's a bit too gimmicky for my taste.  The actual meat of the book does not start until page 195.  The book is not very expensive, and the 20% that is substantive is definitely worth the read.

The five dysfunctions are identified as:

  • absence of trust
  • fear of conflict
  • lack of commitment
  • avoidance of accountability
  • inattention to results

Lencioni provides a short and straightforward questionnaire that is a diagnostic tool for helping a team evaluate its susceptibility to each of the five dysfunctions. The team can then work toward overcoming these weaknesses.

TRUST – Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers' intentions are good, and so there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group.  Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy managing their behaviors and interactions within the group.  Trust cannot be achieved overnight.  It requires shared experiences over time and multiple instances of follow-through.

A team can accelerate the process by using a deliberate and focused approach that includes a personal history exercise, a team effectiveness exercise, a behavioral preference profile, 360 degree feedback, and experiential team exercises.

CONFLICT – All great relationships that last over time require productive conflict in order to grow.  It is important to distinguish productive conflict from destructive fighting and interpersonal politics.  It is ironic that many teams avoid even constructive conflict in the name of efficiency, because healthy conflict is actually a time saver.  Contrary to the notion that all conflict wastes, teams that avoid conflict may doom themselves to revisiting issues repeatedly without resolution.  Teams must demonstrate thoughtful restraint when members engage in conflict, and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as that can sometimes be.

Team members should have an agreement to coach one another-- not to retreat from healthy debate, but also to recognize when the debate has turned into discord and destructive fighting.  At this point, they must have the courage to stop the debate, acknowledge what is happening in the team, and work together to come to resolution.

COMMITMENT – Commitment is a function of clarity and buy-in.  Great teams ensure that everyone's ideas are genuinely considered, which then creates a willingness to rally around whatever decision is ultimately made by the group. Only when everyone has expressed their opinions and perspectives can the team confidently come to a decision.  In order to overcome a lack of commitment, the team must be assured that it can be in their best interest to make a decision boldly and be wrong--and then change direction with equal boldness--rather than waffling.

Once a decision is made, the team should explicitly agree on what needs to be communicated to whom by whom.  Another wonderful tool for ensuring commitment is the use of clear deadlines for when decisions will be made, and honoring those dates with discipline.  Contingency plans and "worst-case scenario" analysis can help reduce team members' fears of making a commitment to a particular decision or direction.

ACCOUNTABILITY – Accountability refers to the willingness of team members to challenge their peers about behaviors or performance that might hurt the team.  This is easier said than done, even among cohesive teams with strong personal relationships.  In fact, team members who are particularly close to one another sometimes hesitate to hold one another accountable precisely because they fear jeopardizing a valuable personal relationship.  Ironically, this can cause the relationship to deteriorate as team members begin to resent one another for not living up to expectations and for allowing the standards of the group to erode.  Adhering to a few classic management tools--publication of goals and standards, simple and regular progress reviews, and team rewards in place of individual rewards--can help overcome the avoidance of accountability.

RESULTS – The ultimate dysfunction of a team is the tendency of members to care about something other than the collective goals of the group.  An unrelenting focus on specific objectives and clearly defined outcomes is a requirement for any team.  A team that is not focused on results will stagnate and fail to defeat its competitors.  In order to overcome members' inattention to results, the team must make results clear and reward only those behaviors and actions that contribute to those results.  They must be careful not to get sidetracked to tangential action items.

Lencioni and I agree that teamwork ultimately comes down to practicing a small set of principles over a long period of time.  Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.

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Additional Resources

TRUST Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization by Dennis Reina & Michelle Reina ( Berrett-Koehler, 1999).

CONFLICTA Manager's Guide to Conflict Resolution: Proven Techniques for Reducing Workplace Tensions and Improving Effectiveness by Tony Bleak (downloadable through

ACCOUNTABILITYPersonal Accountability: Powerful and Practical Ideas for You and Your Organization by John Miller (Denver Press, 1999).

COMMITMENTCoaching for Commitment: Interpersonal Strategies for Obtaining Superior Performance from Individuals and Teams by Dennis Kinlaw (Jossey-Bass, 1999).

RESULTSResults-Based Leadership by David Ulrich, Jack Zenger, & Norman Smallwood (Harvard Business School Press, 1999).

TEAMS – The best writing about teams in general is The Wisdom of Teams by Katzenbach & Smith (Harper Perennial, 1999).

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What's New at Brenowitz Consulting

Randi's writing

"Jumpstarting High-Performance Teams"
2003 Handbook of Business Strategy
September 2002

"Teamwork, Not Rivalry Does the Job"
San Jose Business Journal
September 27, 2002 or

"How Consultants Help Leaders Get Buy-in"
IMC Times

"Workforce Collaboration: A By-Product of the Technology-Driven Marketplace"
Innovative Leader
November 2002

Randi's speaking schedule
Monday, October 28, 2002
Institute for Management Consultants
Reno, NV
"The Tao of Consulting"

Thursday, December 12, 2002
National Association of Women Business Owners
Silicon Valley, CA
"The Tao: Harmony in Life & Work"

Thursday, April 10, 2003
Institute for Supply Management
Satellite broadcast
"Leadership Skills & Team Essentials for Supply Management"




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