5 Critical Reasons it's Time to Revisit the Five Dysfunctions of a Team



“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.”  -  Patrick Lencioni


The Five Dysfunctions of Team by Patrick Lencioni is arguably one of the most far reaching and influential team building books of the last decade and beyond.

 But how does the advice offered in the book, which is subtitled “A Leadership Fable” measure up over a decade after its initial publication? 

Can the strategies in the book really create value for contemporary efforts to build high performance teams when resources are often so scarce and employee engagement levels are so low in our private and public organizations?

For example, can reversing the “absence of  trust” really positively impact the active employee disengagement trend that's causing so many organizations to hemorrhage cash?

The Five Dysfunctions of Team Revisited:


1.   Absence of Trust:  According to Lencioni absence of trust is the most dysfunctional of the Five Team Dysfunctions. When there’s no trust, team members are not comfortable being “vulnerable, open and honest with one and other.”

“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they're doing it because they care about the team.”  - Patrick Lencioni


A lack of trust results in a toxic and contagious:

2.       Fear of Conflict: Fear of conflict leads team members to avoid communicating about and resolving their most important issues. This conflict avoidance pattern makes clarifying a team’s evolving roles, goals and strategies for meeting those goals impossible. Without proactive conflict management real teamwork becomes an impossibility.  

With a rapidly increasing number of organizations having to contend with fierce competition for scarce company resources, the need for proactive conflict management is unquestionably a critical success factor, not only within teams but also cross functionally, between departments and organizational levels (i.e. from the frontline up).



“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.”  - Patrick Lencioni


The life blood of a team is the effectiveness of its open and transparent communication, - its ability to resolve challenges, exploit opportunities and grow by systematically addressing and resolving its most hot button issues in real time.  As Lencioni next points out, the team dysfunction of conflict avoidance leads to a fundamental:



3.  Lack of Commitment.  In this third team dysfunction Lencioni beautifully captures and conveys a concept that has been researched and expounded through almost a century’s worth of organizational science. This is the idea that deep personal commitment to team and organizational goals develops in proportion to a fundamental sense of ownership of those goals.


“It's as simple as this. When people don't unload their opinions and feel like they've been listened to, they won't really get on board.” - Patrick Lencioni

Internal commitment emerges when employees are empowered to actively participate in goal setting and decision making. Ownership through participative goal setting and decision making is actually the wellspring of what modern organization development specialists have reframed as active employee engagement.

4.       Unwillingness to Hold Each Other Accountable. In this fourth team dysfunction, Lencioni describes how there is no sense of shared accountability for meeting the team’s performance goals.

The real essence of shared accountability in teamwork can be found in the phenomenon of positive social and emotional team bonding. And you can't bond with people you don't trust.

When teammates trust each other, and communicate effectively, they also tend to deeply respect each other and care about each other as human beings. A strong shared drive emerges to support and help each other, both as individuals and in order to maintain the health and wellbeing of the team.

Sadly, in the absence of positive social and emotional team-bonding, a team becomes unglued. A lack of shared accountability leads to a complete:


5.  Inattention to Results. When there’s no trust, proactive conflict management, and mutual accountability towards shared performance goals, there can be no focus on positive and negative feedback.

Continuous corrective feedback from the environment enables a high performance team to learn and adapt rapidly to environmental changes. Effectively monitoring and responding based on the results of their efforts allows the team to modify its goals and strategies to better meet changing internal and external customer needs and demands.

A focus on meeting performance goals also enables team leaders to reward and recognize team members based on those behaviors that generated the desired business outcomes.  When there’s no focus on results – performance management becomes impossible.


The Bottom Line: 
In an era when over 90% of team building interventions fail to get their intended results, when they are a complete waist of the typical organization's scarce resources of time and money, The Five Dysfunctions of Team is more relevant now than it was when it was first published: 


Five Dysfunctions of a Team Infographic

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