Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Author: Patrick Lencioni)

I’m always picking up books I find at thrift stores and yard sales. One I recently found was Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It is a small book clocking in at nearly 230 pages. I read it in three days. Yes, I thought it was that good.

Cover of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Cover via Amazon

Lencioni uses fiction to tell a fable about an imaginary company and its struggles with the five dysfunctions and how it eventually overcomes the dysfunctions. The bulk of the book is engaged in this tale, and a small portion is then more direct commentary and instruction upon the five dysfunctions.

It has certainly challenged my thoughts on team leadership – in a good way. So, without further ado, here are Lencioni’s five dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of Trust
    1. This occurs when individuals do not feel safe speaking openly and honestly about their thoughts on a topic.
    2. It also involves a lack of vulnerability on the part of group members – an unwillingness to admit their strengths or weaknesses.
  2. Fear of Conflict
    1. This occurs when individuals avoid discussing topics because they want to avoid conflict – which Lencioni insists is a good thing.
  3. Lack of Commitment
    1. This occurs when individuals do not discuss a topic, oftentimes not even being given the chance to do so. The individuals don’t “buy-in” to the idea and thus the idea goes nowhere.
    2. Yet, at the same time, Lencioni is not suggesting rule by consensus – but rather that allowing the decision holders to air their opinions and then making a final decision – without the necessity of consensus – and with the understanding that the team will support whatever decision is made.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
    1. Caused by the unwillingness of team members to confront their peers when peers fail.
  5. Inattention to Results
    1. This occurs when the individual puts their accomplishments, career, ego, and so on before that of the organization…or when they put a smaller, internal team’s accomplishments ahead of the organization’s.
    2. This can be countered by tying accomplishments with organization wide goals. If the organization wide goals are not accomplished, then no one succeeded.

That is a very brief summary of the five dysfunctions with some brief comments from myself attempting to explain what each of these dysfunctions means. I’d like to also provide a few choice quotes for your consideration from the book:

  • “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” – vii.
  • “The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.” – vii.
  • “Trust is the foundation of real teamwork. And so the first dysfunction is a failure on the part of the team members to understand and open up to one another.” – 43-44.
  • “Great teams do not hold back with one another…They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” – 44.
  • “[A trust problem exists because of] the lack of debt that exists during staff meetings and other interactions among this team.” – 45.
  • “…teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – 63.
  • “As soon as the reality of business problems is reintroduced to a situation like this [a dysfunctional team]…people revert back to the behaviors that put them in the difficult situation in the first place.” – 80.
  • “Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.” – 88.
  • “If we cannot learn to engage in productive, ideological conflict during meetings, we are through.” – 101.
  • “…don’t ever slam one of your teammates when that person isn’t in the room.” – 121.
  • “We aren’t going to solve this one right here. It’s a process, and we don’t need to get bogged down contemplating our navels for more than a few minutes.” – 139.
  • “Some people are hard to hold accountable because they are so helpful. Others because they get defensive. Others because they are intimidating. I don’t think it’s easy to hold anyone accountable, not even your own kids.” – 148.
  • “You are fighting. But about issues. That’s your job. Otherwise, you leave it to your people to try to solve problems that they can’t solve. They want you to has this stuff out so they can get clear direction from us.” – 170.
  • “I don’t think anyone ever gets completely used to conflict. If it’s not a little uncomfortable, then it’s not real. The key is to keep doing it anyway.” – 175.
  • “It’s going to take more than a few weeks of behavioral change before we see a tangible impact on the bottom line.” – 176.
  • “As difficult as it is to build a cohesive team, it is not complicated.” – 185.

If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. Whether you run a company, manage a team, lead a church, or are a parent…I think there is a lot to learn in this small and easy read.

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