One of the first books that was recommended to me when I began my career as people manager was Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team“. As you can imagine, in the book Lencioni presents us with the five main things you have to address to have a trustable, committed and effective team.
As a side note, last week I attended a workshop byJeff Patton. Jeff’s approach to presenting content is based on the premise that a drawing is worth a thousand words, more or less. My hand writing and drawing skills are nowhere near Jeff’s, but here I go. This summarizes how Lencioni represents the five dysfunctions of a team:
It is shaped as a pyramid, because you have to address each level to get to the next one.
1. Absence of Trust
Teamwork is not possible without trust. But as the saying goes, trust is earned, not given. You can’t expect your team members to trust you or their peers out of nowhere. They have to believe that their team members’ intentions are good, and they need to feel comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities.
“OK, but how do I create a safe space for people to be vulnerable?” you may ask. Great question! While there’s many ways in which you as a leader can contribute to creating a safe space, the most essential one is by leading through example:
- Be open about the mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve corrected them
- Show vulnerability. Acknowledge when you might not be the right person to perform a task
- Trust your team members by delegating tasks. Use a coaching approach to delegation
- Allow your team members to make mistakes. Do not punish them if they do. Instead, focus on what the person needs to do different the next time
It’s important to remember that trust will not be achieved overnight. It takes time to build rapport among team members.
2. Fear of Conflict
Without trust, people will avoid conflict. They won’t feel compelled to sharing their opinions or ideas, because they’re afraid of what others might think of them.
Conflict of ideas is fundamental to form great relationships. Note that productive and healthy conflict doesn’t involve personal attacks or destructive fights among team members. The purpose of conflict is to “produce the best possible solution in the shorted period of time” (Lencioni, 202, p. 202).
Avoiding conflict can lead to:
- People using back-channels to vent, which can lead to personal attacks behind other people’s back
- Waste of time by revisiting issues over and over again
Moderating healthy conflict as the leader of the group is very challenging. It’s natural to try to protect the group from conflict, and from harming each other. However, leaders have to restrain themselves, and instead allow the conflict to flow naturally to its resolution, as nasty as it could turn. This, as long as the conflict remains healthy: free of personal attacks, and focused in the ideological discussion.
Also, if you as the leader don’t personally embrace conflict, you may be encouraging this dysfunction to thrive.
3. Lack of Commitment
Commitment comes from clarity and buy-in. Team members commit to decisions when it’s clear what the decision entail, and they believe in the decision. To believe in a decision, it’s very important to address each team member’s ideas and concerns pertaining the decision. Otherwise, not feeling heard will hinder their buy-in.
Lack of commitment is connected to the previous level because if team members are afraid of sharing what they think to avoid conflict, their ideas and concerns will never be heard, and they will not feel part of the decision-making process.
As a leader, you can make your team members feel committed by:
- Create opportunities for the team to collaborate in the decision-making process
- Create clarity around direction and priorities
- Make sure the team is aligned with the priorities
- Ensure adherence of the team to schedules set by the team
4. Avoidance of Accountability
In the context of teamwork, accountability refers to calling yourself and your team members out when displaying behavior that might hurt the team. It relates to the previous level, because without commitment and a clear understanding of expected behavior, the members of your team will not keep themselves and their peers accountable.
As a leader you can contribute to team-moderated accountability by:
- Ensuring you’re not the only source of discipline. Team members should feel empowered to provide feedback to each other.
- Encourage people to keep you accountable of the things you said you would do. Again, it goes back to leading by example.
- Guarantee that everyone is held to the same standards
- Provide an environment of blameless discussion around behavior that doesn’t contribute to the team’s success
5. Inattention to Results
This dysfunction manifests through team members caring about something else that’s not necessarily aligned with the collective goals of the team.
A clear example is when team members worry more about individual status at the expense of their team’s success.
As a leader you need to focus on rewarding and recognizing those team members that make real contributions to the goal of the team, and demonstrate that you are result-oriented, by delivering results of your own.
Ultimately, a team member that doesn’t feel that they’re trusted or that they can trust others won’t be part of the decision-making process due to fear of conflict. Without them being part of the processes that set the team’s direction, they won’t feel committed nor will keep themselves accountable for the goals of the team, and what’s expected from them. With all this, said team members will not feel compelled to delivering results that align with the team’s goals.