The Five Dysfunctions of a Team -Book Summary

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

This is an interesting book that has two main parts: “a leadership fable” about a struggling tech startup with a ton of perceived advantages, yet they lag their industry because they are not working effectively as a team. The second part of the book is the ‘Model’ the fable is about. The premise is that organizations do not live up to their potential because they naturally fall into the five dysfunctions of a team. Below is a screenshot of the Five Dysfunctions and the root causes of their issues:


Image result for five dysfunctions of a team


Absence of trust stems from the team’s unwillingness to be vulnerable to each other. “When a team is not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses it is impossible to build a foundation of trust”

Trust in this book is not referring to the more common definition of an expectation you can typically have of a person based on prior experiences with that person or body of prior work. The trust that Lencioni is talking about is based around vulnerability. You want team members to be comfortable talking about their skill deficiencies and weaknesses, which can be a challenge since people want to advance their careers and not show their weaknesses. This can hold back the level of trust within a team. The author has a chart of things teams with trust do vs. no trust. some of the key ones are:

Absence of trust:

  • conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside of their areas of responsibility
  • dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together
  • fail to recognize and tap into on another skills and experiences

Members of trusting

  • admit weaknesses and mistakes
  • ask for help
  • take risks in offering feedback and assistance
  • focus time and energy on important issues, not politics
  • offer and accept apologies without hesitations
  • look forward to meetings and other opportunities to work as a group

Overcoming Dysfunction 1- Pages 197- 201 have a few suggestions for how to build trust in a team.  A few of the ideas are personality profiles (disc), personal histories exercise, and team effectiveness exercise to start the discussion in a way that shifts the team to be more trusting. “Each of the strategies must be accompanies by regular follow up in the daily course of work”

The role of the leader in dysfunction 1 is to demonstrate vulnerability first. Risk losing face in front of the team so the team members take the same risk as well.

Fear of Conflict is an issue because if a team has an absence of trust they are not going to engage in an “unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. instead they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments”

Healthy conflict is actually a time saver. People are able to ‘air out’ all of the concerns, arguments, and ideas in a safe and open debate. You do not want things to go unsaid or there will not be alignment around it. Chart on page 204:

Teams that fear conflict:

  • have boring meetings
  • create environments where back channel politics and personal attacks thrive
  • ignore controversial topics critical to team success
  • fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of the team  members
  • waste time and energy with posturing and interpersonal risk management

Teams that engage in conflict:

  • have lively, interesting meetings
  • extract and exploit ideas of all team members
  • solve problems quickly
  • minimize politics
  • put critical topics on the table for discussion

Overcoming dysfunction 2 on pages 204-206: mining conflict- someone who extracts buried conflicts; real time permission: recognize when the people engages in conflict are becoming uncomfortable with the level of discord, remind them what they are doing is necessary; Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument?

Role of the leader: demonstrate their restraint when people engage in conflict. personally model the appropriate conflict behavior. Do not try to protect your team from conflict, encourage it.

Lack of Commitment comes directly from the inability to have healthy conflict. When a team isn’t able to have an open and passionate debate, team members rarely will buy in and commit to decisions even if they agree during the meeting.

Commitment = clarity + buy-in

Two causes of lack of commitment are the lack of consensus and need for certainty. People will only buy in if they know their opinions have been heard and considered. Certainty is when you can unite behind decisions and commit to clear courses of action even when there is little assurance about whether the decision is correct. ” a decision is better than no decision” It is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong, then change direction with equal boldness than it is to waffle.

Teams that fail to commit:

  • create ambiguity among the team about direction and priorities
  • watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis and unnecessary delay
  • breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure
  • revisits discussions and decisions again and again
  • encourages second guessing among team members

A team that commits:

  • creates clarity around direction and priorities
  • aligns the entire team around common objectives
  • develops an ability to learn from mistakes
  • takes advantage of opportunities before competitors do
  • moves forward without hesitation
  • changes direction without hesitation or guilt

Overcoming Dysfunction 3 on pages 210-211. Cascading message: take a few minutes at the end of a meeting to review the key decisions made during the meeting and agree on what needs to be communicated to employees or other constituencies about those decisions. Define clear deadlines, ‘low risk exposure therapy’ – demonstrate decisiveness on low risk situations; contingency and worst case scenario analysis

Role of the leader- more than any other member of the team, a leader must be comfortable with the prospect of making a decision that turns out to be wrong. Push the group for closure around issues as well as accountability for the schedules the team has set.

Avoidance of accountability is caused from a lack of commitment and buy-in to the decisions. “If the team has not committed to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people will often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team”

Accountability is a buzzword that is overused to death. The most effective way to hold people accountable is through peer pressure. Members of great teams improve their relationships by holding one another accountable.

Teams that avoid accountability:

  • create resentment among team members who have different standards of performance
  • encourages mediocrity
  • misses deadlines and key deliverables
  • places undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline

Teams that holds one another accountable:

  • ensures poor performers feel pressure to improve
  • identifies potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches without hesitation
  • establishes respect among team members who are held to the same high standards
  • avoids excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action

Overcoming dysfunction 4: publication of goals and standards (4 Disciplines of Execution of a public scoreboard); simple and regular progress reviews; team rewards

Role of leader- do not become an accountability vacuum where you are the only source of discipline, you need to have a team culture of accountability where if someone is not performing it is holding the whole team back and that person should feel the pressure from the whole team.

Inattention to results is the final result when we fail to hold one another accountable. It occurs when team members put their individual needs (ego, career development, recognition) above the collective goals of the team.

Shoot for leading metrics. goals and objectives that executives set for themselves along the way constitute a much more representative example of the results it strives for as a team. Make sure the team is not focused on team status or individual status as discussed on page 217

A team that is not focused on results

  • stagnates/fails to grow
  • rarely defeats competitors
  • loses achievement oriented employees
  • encourages team members to focus on their own careers and individual goals
  • is easily distracted

A team that is focused on collective results

  • retains achievement oriented employees
  • minimizes individualistic behavior
  • enjoys success and suffers failure acutely
  • benefits from individuals who subjugate their own goals/interests for the good of the team
  • avoids distractions

Overcoming Dysfunction 5 – pages 218 and 219. Public declaration of results- make it clear what you intend to achieve. Results-based awards: tie rewards (compensation especially to the achievement of specific outcomes- watch out for this one for taking home a bonus for ‘trying hard’

Role of the leader: set the tone for a focus on results

Lencioni summarizes this by saying of teams:

“Another way to understand this model is to take the
opposite approach—a positive one—and imagine how
members of truly cohesive teams behave:
1. They trust one another.
2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
3. They commit to decisions and plans of action.
4. They hold one another accountable for delivering
against those plans.
5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.”

Page 192 has a questionnaire that can be used to assess your team’s strengths and weaknesses compared to the five dysfunctions.

The book does a nice job of illustrating how this would work in a meeting scenario, however I would argue it could have gone deeper on some of the details when it came to how these ‘teams’ work and what the size limit is. In the fable Kathryn said the team was getting too big so she had to shuffle a few people around. It sounds like it is somewhere in the 4-8 people range to be a truly effective team int his sense.



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