Patrick Lencioni is one of my favorite business authors and this is one of the most helpful books that I continually go back to time and again. I would say it is my favorite “business book”, but it is actually helpful in any setting in which you work with a team – business, church, non-profit, sports, etc.
In this book Lencioni follows his usual practice of using a fictional account (fable) to make his points in an interesting manner, and then summarizing those points in the final portion (last 33 pages) of the book.
In the fable, Kathryn Peterson is a newly appointed CEO of Decision Tech, a technology company which has much potential. In fact, Kathryn will tell her staff multiple times:
“We have a more experienced and talented executive team than any of our competitors. We have more cash than they do. Thanks to Martin and his team, we have better core technology. And we have a more powerful board of directors. Yet in spite of all that, we are behind two of our competitors in terms of both revenue and customer growth.”
The problem with Decision Tech is that their executive staff is not displaying teamwork. In a series of off-site meetings, Kathryn leads the staff through the five dysfunctions of a team. She, as well as Lencioni in the final portion of the book, recommend ways for overcoming the dysfunctions.
This is an excellent book on team dynamics and teamwork. Being written as a fable allows the reader to get a vivid picture of how a team interacts and what it feels like to be part of a successful team. This is a quick read; the author’s model is simple and the book is full of practical advice which leaders can use in building good teams. I’ve included some helpful concepts Lencioni teaches in the book below:Like it or not, all teams are potentially dysfunctional. This is inevitable because they are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings.
Addressing the Dysfunctions
To begin improving your team and to better understand the level of dysfunction you are facing, ask yourself these simple questions:
- Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
- Are team meetings compelling and productive? Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
- Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
- Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?
Although no team is perfect and even the best teams sometimes struggle with one or more of these issues, the finest organizations constantly work to ensure that their answers are “yes.” If you answered “no” to many of these questions, your team may need some work.
The first step toward reducing politics and confusion within your team is to understand that there are five dysfunctions to contend with, and address each that applies, one by one.
The Five Dysfunctions
Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust
This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.
Members of teams with a lack of trust:
• Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
• Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
• Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility
• Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them
• Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
• Waste time and energy managing their behaviors for effect
• Hold grudges
• Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together
Members of trusting teams:
• Admit weaknesses and mistakes
• Ask for help
• Accept questions and input about their areas of responsibility
• Give one another 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
• Focus time and energy on important issues, not politics
• Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict
Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.
Teams that fear conflict:
• Have boring meetings
• Create environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive
• Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
• Fail to tap into all the opinions and perspectives of team members
• Waste time and energy with posturing and interpersonal risk management
Teams that engage in conflict:
• 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
Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment
Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled.
A team that fails to commit:
• Creates 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
Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability
When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.
A team that avoids accountability:
• Creates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance
• Encourages mediocrity
• Misses deadlines and key deliverables
• Places and undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline
A team that holds one another accountable:
• Ensures that 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
Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results
Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.
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 focuses 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
I highly recommend that leaders read and discuss this book with their teams.