The five dysfunctions of a team

Categories: Leadership.

Working in a team can be challenging, especially if the team leader is not in touch with the rest of the group. Patrick Lencioni (2002) writes about ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, in which he explores the central causes of organisational politics and team failure.

Lencioni identifies the following top five team dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

Now, let’s take closer look at these:

1. Absence of Trust

If a team lacks trust, members will conceal weaknesses and mistakes, hesitate to ask for or offer help and quickly jump to conclusions about intentions without clarification. They may also fail to recognise others’ skills and often waste valuable time and energy.

In teams where there is trust amongst members, confidence levels are high, each member has- and contributes with- good intentions, and there is no reason to be protective or careful around the team.

A team leader who lacks trust must demonstrate vulnerability first and risk losing face in front of his/her team. He/she must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability and emphasises the fact that vulnerability must be genuine and not staged.

2. Fear of Conflict

Teams that fear conflict often sit through monotonous meetings and waste time, creating an environment of backbiting where personal attacks thrive. Members may also ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success and often fail to tap into others’ opinions and perspectives.

Teams that encourage healthy conflict have passionate dialogue, view a disagreement as a challenge, question one another, find the best answers, have great discussions and work hard to uncover the truth.

A team leader who fears conflict must demonstrate restraint when members engage in conflict and allow resolutions to organically occur. He/she should personally model appropriate conflict behaviour and develop management skills that deal with conflict in a professional and kind manner.

3. Lack of Commitment

Teams that suffer from a lack of commitment amongst their team members create ambiguity and blur direction and priorities. Such teams watch windows of opportunity close due to over-analysing and unnecessarily delaying everything. These teams also breed lack of confidence and fear of failure; they revisit discussions and decisions again and again.

Teams that do not lack commitment put all ideas and opinions on the table and consider all possible avenues, answers or approaches.

What is the role of the leader if the team suffers from a lack of commitment? The leader must be comfortable with the prospect of making an incorrect decision; he/she must push the group for closure around issues and adherence to schedules and timelines set by the team.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

A team that avoids accountability creates resentment amongst those who have different standards of performance. It encourages mediocrity, misses deadlines and key deliverables and places an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline.

Teams which accept accountability commit to decisions, standards and performance, hold one another accountable, do not rely on a team leader for guidance or discipline and are direct with their peers.

What is the role of the leader if the team constantly avoids accountability? The leader must encourage and allow the team to serve as the first and primary accountability mechanism. If the team fails, then the leader must serve as a subjective mediator and ensure that the team shares accountability.

5. Inattention to results

A team that is not focused on results stagnates and fails to grow. It rarely defeats competitors, loses achievement-orientated employees and encourages team members to focus on their own careers and individual goals. This team is also very easily distracted.

Teams which are results-driven set aside individual needs and personal agendas, focus on what is best for the team and work towards collective results.

What is the role of the leader if the team is not results-oriented? The leader must set the tone for a focus on results and members will follow. He/she must be selfless, objective and reserve rewards and recognition for those who make real contributions.

Does the team you work with suffer from any of the dysfunctions mentioned above? If so, address this with your supervisor immediately and discuss openly how to best move forward.

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