Overcoming the 5 dysfunctions of a team

Over my career, I have done various work around the importance of teams and engaging employees in the workplace. Through that work I have discovered several authors whose writing I particularly resonate with. One of them is the work of Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni is a consultant and keynote speaker who runs a management consultancy firm specialising in executive team development and organisational health.

The book is written as a business fable and discusses the challenges faced by the newly appointed CEO; Kathryn Peterson of a fictional company called Decision Tech. She must take on the organisational politics and face the task of developing a high performing team from a group of people who have low morale and a lack of accountability. By taking us through the tale Lencioni identifies the 5 reasons why teams do not work, as the diagram below shows:

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By identifying the reasons teams fail, Lencioni could then offer suggestions of how teams could reverse this and build trust, face conflict, be committed to a common purpose, take accountability, and ultimately be focused on and achieve results.

So here are some tips from the book on each area:

Building trust

We need shared experiences with an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of each team member. We need to get to know one another and be open to our vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

  • Admit weaknesses
  • Ask for help
  • Accept questions and input
  • Give each other the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion
  • Take risks in offering feedback and assistance
  • Appreciate and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Offer and accept apologies

By building trust, a team makes conflict possible because team members feel freer to engage in passionate debate without the fear that it will impact negatively on the relationship.

Embracing conflict

Acknowledge that conflict is productive and can lead to healthy debate and improved decision making.

  • Have lively interesting meetings
  • Extract and exploit the ideas of all team members
  • Solve real problems quickly
  • Minimize politics
  • Put critical topics on the table for discussion

By engaging in healthy debate and conflict we get to tap into every team member’s knowledge and experience. We can then confidently commit and buy-in to the decision knowing that it has benefited from everyone’s opinion.

Committing to a clear vision

We can gain commitment by taking specific steps to enhance clarity and achieve buy-in and resisting the need to always have consensus.

  • Create clarity around direction and priorities
  • Align the entire team around common objectives
  • Develop an ability to learn from mistakes
  • Take advantage of opportunities before competitors do
  • Move forward without hesitation
  • Change direction without hesitation or guilt

For colleagues to tackle each other on their behaviours and actions they need to have a clear sense of what is expected. To hold people accountable, we need to know and be clear on what it is they were expected to do.

Taking accountability

By adhering to some basic management tools such as publishing standards, having regular reviews and giving rewards, accountability can increase.

  • Ensure that poor performers feel pressure to improve
  • Identity potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches
  • Establish respect among team members who are held to the same high standards
  • Avoid excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action

By holding colleagues accountable for their contributions, they will be less likely to turn their attention to their own needs and the advancement of themselves or own department. By being accountable it enables team members to concentrate on collective results.

Focus on results

Results are not just financial. Whilst profit may be the ultimate measure of success the goals and objectives that we all set along the way are a more representative example of results.

  • Recruit and retain those team members that are focused on achievements
  • Minimize individualistic behaviour
  • Enjoy success and feel the pain of failure
  • Results will benefit from individuals who let go of their own interests for the good of the team

Make results clear and only reward those behaviours and actions that contribute to those results. Having a public space to share targets and achievements means that people are committing to others what they intend to achieve and can be held accountable.

Lencioni does have his critics who comment that it is not based on research and therefore it lacks any evidential support and that it has a ‘touchy-feely’ approach. Maybe the ‘touchy-feely’ approach is why I like it! Regardless, Lencioni makes some valid points that are completely actionable back in the workplace to help build high performing teams.

Its definitely worth a read and if you are more of a pragmatist then check out his field guide book ‘Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ that gives leaders and managers information on how to put his ideas into practice.

So what might you plan to do to improve your team?

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