How to Interpret Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

By People Leaders | People Leaders Podcast

How to Interpret Lencioni's 5 Dysfunctions of a Team People Leaders

If you’ve been following People Leaders a while, you’ll know we’re all about optimising your team’s performance and effectiveness. We like to explore ways in which we can help you, and we love hearing what leading-edge thinkers have to say. This week (and on the podcast), we’re looking at the work of organisational health expert Patrick Lencioni and the ideas raised in his book ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - A Leadership Fable’.

According to Lencioni, there are five basic dysfunctions that teams commonly struggle with. These cause confusion, misunderstanding, negative morale and can impact entire organisations. He identifies and explains each dysfunction and how to overcome them in order to become a more cohesive, highly functioning team. And even though we have our own high performing team assessment tools, we feel this is a really good starting point for a conversation.

You can also download a pdf graphic that maps the dysfunctions to some of the resources we provide that can help you address them.

Dysfunction #1: Absence of trust

Lencioni believes teamwork starts with trust - and the way to build trust is to come from a place of vulnerability.

He explains that showing vulnerability, admitting your mistakes or weaknesses, is the way to build trust. This is because trust, according to Lencioni, is a psychological state where you can show and accept vulnerability based on the positive expectation of the behaviour of another. It's like saying, ‘I'm okay with you, and I know I can be vulnerable and I'm still going to be okay’. It’s the knowledge that others will accept you for who you are and the diversity you bring. It’s knowing that you don't have to put up defence mechanisms because you can speak your truth without fear of being cut down.

As a people leader, you need to lead by example. This might be hard but, for example, when things aren't going well in the team, you could say, ‘I'm struggling with X and I need support in the form of Y.’ This will encourage others to follow suit and help build trust, arguably the most important structure within any team.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of conflict

Without trust, people don’t voice their opinion for fear of creating conflict. And healthy conflict is constructive. So, when people agree or avoid committing because to do so would create conflict, the result is that productivity is stifled. Though conflict does have a loaded energy to it, it’s important to remember that it is okay. It's how you deal with conflict that builds strength within the team.

The opportunity here is to encourage and embrace diversity of thought, values and ways of operating. One strategy is to demand that everyone weighs into a decision and shares their opinion and as a leader, we strongly suggest you encourage this. Remember to present your opinion last, because when leaders go first, team members often just follow suit rather than say what they really think. Everyone has something to contribute and your job as a leader is to expect it, mine for it, go in and dig deep.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of commitment

This is when people agree on the surface but don't really commit to a decision. They don’t feel safe to have their say and want to preserve harmony. It shows up through lack of clarity and buy-in which stops the team making decisions that stick. Robust discussion and solid, clear decision-making processes will help the team support commitment.

By now you should be able to see how each of these dysfunctions builds on the previous one. If there’s lack of trust, team members are more likely to fear the conflict that voicing their opinions might bring. They’re much more likely to buy into a decision when they’ve had their say, but if there’s no debate, their opinions aren’t included in the decision-making process. When everyone is heard and views are respected, transparent decisions are more easily reached. It’s about clarity and as a leader, you must seek it, create it and communicate it.

Dysfunction #4: Avoiding accountability

The best and most high performing teams are where individuals hold one another to account. When people feel uncomfortable having the difficult conversation or holding somebody to account, the team won’t function well. Again, it starts with you as a people leader. Your team must see you leading the charge, catching that red flag early, not letting things go.

As you’re reading this post, ask yourself what you’re avoiding because it's uncomfortable. What’s that difficult conversation you're not having? People want to do their best and difficult conversations generally go better than we expect. We need to confront difficult issues, knowing that when built on a foundation of trust, commitment and clarity, holding each other accountable will help everyone and the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to results

It’s natural for people to put their own needs first. But when they’re too busy pursuing their own objectives, the team doesn’t get what it needs to succeed. As the people leader, you need to be clear about collective goals and the importance of results. Make sure you talk about them, measure them, acknowledge and reward members for working towards them. When there’s trust, discussion and accountability, the team will be strong, motivated and committed to achieving group objectives.

A worthwhile pursuit

If you recognise these patterns within your team, it might come as a relief to know they’re universal and can be overcome. Remember, they’re all connected and the key is to start by building a strong foundation of trust. Following that, encourage healthy conflict, maintain accountability and set clear objectives communicating with clarity all the way. It might not be easy, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

Here's that link again to download a pdf graphic that maps the dysfunctions to some of the resources we provide that can help you address them.

How to Interpret Lencioni's 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

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