What prevents a team from succeeding in its mission? This is the central question of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The book presents the five dysfunctions like a pyramid - each one builds on the next. And to solve all the dysfunctions, you need to start at the bottom and most fundamental dysfunction.
Here’s an overview of the five dysfunction. Each one discusses what a healthy environment looks like, what the dysfunction looks like, and how to overcome the dysfunction.
Trust is confidence that your peers have good intentions and aren't out to harm you. Teams that trust one another are comfortable being vulnerable, and can admit mistakes and weaknesses.
If you have an absence of trust, then you don't feel safe being vulnerable and admitting your weaknesses, because you fear your vulnerability will be used against you.As a result, teams that lack trust hesitate to ask for help, spend a lot of time managing behaviors and appearances, and hide their mistakes from one another. People who are afraid of being vulnerable receive feedback poorly, and they retaliate. As a result, productive feedback is stifled.
To overcome this dysfunction, teams should practice exchanging feedback in structured environments. In these safe environments, they can identify strengths and weaknesses without repercussions. Examples include personality profiles (like Myers-Briggs type), identifying each other's single biggest contribution and area for improvement, and 360-degree feedback.
Functional teams engage in ideological conflict. Because they trust each other, they feel comfortable expressing their true opinions and publicly disagreeing over important issues. With trust, they know that feedback isn’t meant to damage a person, but rather to improve them.
When there is a fear of conflict, these conversations get swept under the rug and the team is unable to resolve critical issues. Teams that fear conflict don’t tap into the full expertise and...
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Five Dysfunctions of a Team explores the dysfunctions that prevent teams from working cohesively as a unit and outlines some key strategies that teams can employ to identify and resolve them. The book does this through a parable about a troubled (fictional) company called DecisionTech, whose executive team exhibits all five of the dysfunctions.
DecisionTech seems to have everything going for it. They have a seasoned executive team, a solid business plan, plenty of startup capital from investors, and leading-edge technology.
Unfortunately, they find themselves unable to capitalize on these advantages and are instead mired in dysfunction. With missed product delivery deadlines, a growing turnover problem, and an eroding cash position, the company is on the brink of failure.
The problem is the executive team, which is:
Amid this turmoil, the Board of Directors asks the CEO and cofounder to step down, replacing him with their new choice,...
By thinking about DecisionTech’s flaws, you can improve your effectiveness as part of a team.
Have you ever been part of a team that was unable to work together and achieve its stated goals? How do you think you might have contributed to this dynamic?
DecisionTech suffers from an absence of trust.
“Trust” is an often-misused word, and tends to be used to signify predictability in someone’s behavior (as in, “I trust that you will get this done”).
When discussing interactions between members of a team however, it means something deeper. Trust is the quality of being able to feel safe and unjudged by one’s teammates. It is the ability to be vulnerable with one another (by being willing to admit mistakes and reveal weaknesses). The root of this is fear that exposing your weaknesses will be used against you. You don’t believe that other people have your best interests at heart.
Without trust, teams miss important opportunities and channel their energy into unproductive behavior, suppressing their true feelings. Instead of honesty and openness, you get politics—people acting and speaking based on how they believe they will be perceived by others, not on...
Passionate, ideological conflict is necessary for teams to learn from past mistakes, take decisive action, and tap into the full team’s talent and experience. This requires healthy conflict, but dysfunctional teams have a fear of conflict.
Fear of conflict is a direct outgrowth of the first dysfunction, absence of trust. Without the guardrails that trust provides, teammates will be fearful that any conflict will devolve into personal sniping and unproductive arguing—so they avoid conflict altogether. Trustful teams don’t have this problem, because their conflicts are about substantive issues, not personal feelings.
Productive, ideological conflict is different from interpersonal conflict. Ideological conflict is driven by concepts, ideas, and goals.Teams avoid these discussions because they fear...
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These questions will help you identify sources of discomfort and examine why you might be holding back from your colleagues.
Do you feel comfortable admitting your own weaknesses among your team? Why or why not? Describe a recent example.
Teams need to be committed and on the same page in order to succeed. There can be no ambiguity around what goals the organization is trying to achieve, and all team members must fully buy in to the plan. Most importantly, they must decide.
Dysfunctional teams, however, fail to achieve commitment and lumber from one non-decision to the next.
This problem stems from a fear of conflict. When teammates haven’t had the opportunity to hash out disagreements through productive, ideological debate, they feel that their ideas haven’t been proper consideration. It is also harder to make any decision when alternative points of view have not been considered, because it feels there might be better options that lay undiscovered. The result is a lack of commitment: ambiguity about goals, confusion regarding individual responsibilities, and indecision.
Lack of commitment also stems from a desire for consensus and certainty.
Consensus—universal agreement—is impossible to achieve and is actually counterproductive. Striving for it will...
Effective teams hold other accountable in order to correct problematic or counterproductive behavior and maintain consistent high standards.
Dysfunctional teams, however, are unable to call out their peers for unproductive behavior and falling below standards
This avoidance of accountability stems from the first three dysfunctions.
Lack of commitment has the most powerful effect in fostering avoidance of accountability. Without clarity and buy-in, teammates feel they have no right to call others out over team priorities that were either 1) unclear or 2) never bought into in the first place. Moreover, when a team is suffering from the indecision that defines lack of commitment, **there...
Functioning teams are focused on achieving results. They have an ultimate mission and clear, defined objectives along the way to help them achieve that mission.
Dysfunctional teams, however, don’t define their goals or establish clear, universal benchmarks for success.
This stems directly from the fourth dysfunction: without clear decisions, defined goals, and well-articulated responsibilities for everyone, teammates will be unable and unwilling to hold their teammates accountable to high standards. In the absence of accountability, people will naturally pursue whatever is best for themselves.
If individuals know they can get away with blowing off deadlines on team projects without having their feet held to the fire by their colleagues, individual egos will rule the roost. This leads to the team devolving into a collection of individuals...
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Use these questions to see if you’re on the same page with your teammates.
Do you know what your teammates are working on? Explain why knowing this is important.
Now that we’ve identified the dysfunctions and examined their causes and effects, we can work through some strategies for overcoming them.
The overall goal is to build a healthy environment where all five dysfunctions are solved. Picture this high-functioning team:
This needs to be approached from the ground up, starting with the first dysfunction.
To review, Dysfunction 1 is an absence of trust, where people are uncomfortable being vulnerable with one another. This leads to people withholding feedback from each other, being unwilling to ask for help, and playing politics.
The general theme to fixing this is to** provide structured...
To recap, Dysfunction 2 is fear of conflict, in which teammates avoid having productive, ideological debate and steer away from discussing controversial topics. When this happens, problems go undetected, mistakes are repeated, and opportunities are squandered.
The general theme to fixing this is by encouraging teams to deal directly with sources and topics of disagreement, rather than ignoring them. Once they see that conflict can be a productive endeavor, they will get comfortable making it a more regular part of their decision-making process.
Here are some specific tactics teams can use to get comfortable leaning into conflict.
This involves teams bringing up previous disagreements and forcing them to work through issues that they would otherwise avoid. This direct acknowledgment is key, since not talking about a conflict doesn’t resolve the underlying issue at all—it just causes it to manifest in other, more destructive forms (like...
Think about these questions to see how you can get more comfortable with your teammates.
How much do you know about your teammates on a personal level? Do you find yourself working better with people when you know more about their lives?
As a refresher, Dysfunction Three is lack of commitment. This is when teams don’t have clarity around priorities and fail to get their members to buy in to the plan. It leads to ambiguity around team and individual priorities and wasted time, energy, and opportunities due to indecision.
To solve this dysfunction, teams need to create clarity around specific responsibilities and expectations and encourage decisiveness. Below are some tools that can help teams move in this direction.
At the end of every meeting, review key decisions and agree on what needs to be communicated to stakeholders who were not at the meeting. Think through the messaging to each successive layer of the organization. This reveals any points of disagreement between the team and fosters clarity about next steps. It also gives clear instructions on what should be conveyed to subordinates, so that all parts of the organization are receiving the same message.
Assign clear timing around project deliverables. This will reduce ambiguity, since everyone will know when and what they are expected to deliver. Deadlines must be...
To recap, Dysfunction Four is avoidance of accountability. This is when teammates fail to hold each other to high standards of performance and force the leader to become the sole source of discipline. It results in the spread of low standards across the organization, an exodus of achievement-oriented people, and resentment towards those who refuse to pull their weight.
In general, this can be fixed by making clear what goals the organization is meant to achieve and incentivizing individuals to work for the group rather than for themselves. For accountability, teams should engage in peer pressure tactics, which is scalable and reduces the bureaucracy needed for oversight.
Below are some tools designed to achieve this shift in behavior.
This clarifies what the team needs to accomplish, everyone’s individual responsibilities to the team, and a code of conduct so people know how to behave.
Creating public goals and standards puts everyone on the same page. It facilitates accountability, since everyone knows what the proper measurement of success is and what...
To recap, Dysfunction Five is inattention to results. It’s when teammates let their personal ambitions and egos get in the way of achieving team priorities. Inattention to results leads to a failure to capitalize on new opportunities, lost ground to competitors, and whipsawing back and forth between competing personal agendas.
The best way to resolve this dysfunction is to define clear goals for the organization and articulate how each individual’s work aligns with these broader goals.
Clearly express and publicize results and expectations. This brings clarity, as everyone knows precisely which goals the organization is working toward, and how their work fits into the overall goals.
Use these exercises to help get on the same page with your teammates.
Have you ever been part of a team where there was a lack of commitment around goals? After reading the section above, describe which strategy for overcoming this dysfunction would have been the best to use in this situation.
As a result of the team’s in-depth exploration of the Five Dysfunctions, DecisionTech undergoes a series of large-scale changes. These changes do not suit everyone’s personality and working style, but they are necessary: those who are unable or unwilling to adjust their behavior and thinking will only drag the organization down. The team emerges as a stronger and more cohesive unit by losing those members of the team who can’t make this transition.
The team ultimately decides on new customer acquisition as the company’s overarching goal for the year, landing upon 18 new deals as the target number. They reason that the achievement of this goal will generate positive press, create references for the subsequent round of customers,and prove that there are customers interested in DecisionTech’s products.
JR’s attitude indicates that he was not a good cultural fit for the company DecisionTech needs to become in order to succeed. **His ego, inattention to detail, and refusal to set aside his own agenda demonstrate why he had...