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Team-building and common dysfunctions of teams



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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Patrick Lencioni
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What makes a great team? And how can one build one?

Whenever I think of team building, a movie scene pops into my mind: A newly employed manager tries to bring a team together by acting out some kind of role play with a baguette in hand. I can’t remember the movie, or the specific context but I remember the point the scene was conveying to me; without goal and context team building activities can be ridiculous and total nonsense.

I have been part of many team building activities and interventions. Some were brilliant, sometimes I wasn’t even aware of the team building going on, which I consider a success. Other times, they seemed as ridiculous as roleplay with baguettes in hand.

Building a team can be an elusive concept, or at least for me it has been at times. In the book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni, describes a 5-part model of dysfunctions that are common in teams and how those can be worked on. This essay shortly describes those five parts and later discusses three concepts that were new or inspiring to me.

5 Dysfunctions:

In Lencioni’s model, all dysfunctions are interconnected with each other. They are not separate issues that one can resolve in isolation but should be looked at and worked with, in the context of all. He stresses that the concepts are simple, but the implementations may be hard. Building a great team is a work of months and years.

The first dysfunction is the absence of trust, which stems from team members unwillingness to be vulnerable. We live in a competitive world and many successful careers are built on the premise that one needs to guard one’s reputation and compete. This is one reason that makes what Lencioni calls “vulnerability-based trust” something hard to achieve. Nevertheless, trust is necessary for a team to succeed.  Without trust among team members, honest communication and collaboration become difficult. This leads to a lack of cohesion and commitment. Lencioni defines trust for a team context clearly. “Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group” (Lencioni 2002, 147).

The second dysfunction is fear of conflict. Conflict may be uncomfortable, and some might associate conflict with dysfunctions. That is far from the truth, as artificial harmony causes way more trouble than healthy conflicts. Leaders should encourage healthy conflict as a means of achieving alignment and fostering creativity within the team. Constructive conflict, where differing viewpoints are openly discussed and debated, leads to better decisions and stronger relationships. Such ideological conflicts are concerned with ideas and concepts and avoid involvement of people’s personalities or traits. Some teams avoid conflicts to safe time,  this will be dangerous in the long run. Conflicts should produce the best possible outcome in the shortest period of time.

The third dysfunction is the lack of commitment. Teams must be able to commit to decisions and plans of action wholeheartedly. Healthy conflict makes that possible. When everyone has been heard, and a decision has been made, healthy teams are able to commit and follow through. Even if someone’s personal preference would have been otherwise. Lencioni explains that for a team, commitment is a function of two things, clarity and buy-in. “Great teams make clear and timely decisions and move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team” (Lencioni 2002, 158).

The fourth dysfunction is avoidance of accountability. Lencioni defines it as „the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team” (Lencioni 2002, 163). The reason for avoiding accountability is mostly an unwillingness to experience an interpersonal discomfort between one person for the sake of the benefit of the team. Ironically not holding each other accountable and calling each other out rather destroys relationships and respect because members may begin to resent each other.

The final dysfunction is inattention to results. Teams must prioritize collective results over individual goals or egos. High performing teams have a results-oriented mindset, where team members focus on achieving outcomes that benefit the organization as a whole. The opposite of a result-oriented team is a team that focuses either on team status or individual status. Lencioni says that for a team that merely exists (for status) or survives, opposed to one that lives to achieve meaningful results, “no amount of trust conflict, commitment, or accountability can compensate for a lack of desire to win” (Lencioni 2002, 167).

In his book Lencioni, goes into detail on how those dysfunctions manifest and which interventions might help. For the sake of this essay, I will look at 4 specific viewpoints that I found especially intriguing.

Giving a context and a goal

As mentioned in the beginning, teambuilding can lack context and a goal and if done poorly it might be rather distracting than helping the team. I appreciate Lencionis model because it is connected, structured and practical. It seems to be a wholistic model that comes with simple but insightful explanations and each part connects to the next one. When implementing, it seems there is an overarching goal and context with makes team building less elusive for me.

 

Consensus and certainty are a hindrance

Learning that good teams do neither need consensus nor certainty to be committed is a new perspective for me. In fact, the need for consensus and certainty is a great hindrance to be an effective team.

Personally, as a team member I’m quite good at committing even if I disagree, but as a leader I subconsciously thought that it’s part of my job to bring about consensus and certainty for commitment to happen. Turns out, that’s of course wrong and it makes a lot of sense why.

As mentioned earlier, with good teams, commitment is a function of clarity and buy in. It’s not consensus or certainty. Good teams have enough trust to engage in honest conflict and enough trust that when every perspective has been heard and voiced, the team can move decidedly into one direction, even without consensus. Lencioni says seeking consensus is dangerous and great teams achieve buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible.

He also says that great teams “pride themselves on being able to unite behind decisions and commit to clear courses of action even when there is little assurance about whether the decision is correct” (Lencioni 2002, 158). Again, this is a new perspective to me but I have a team members, who are good examples of that principle and they inspire and push me in that direction. It is better to make bold decisions, be wrong and make bold corrections than to waver.

Wavering breeds lack of confidence within the team and one loses out on opportunities because of it. Imperfect decisions are perfect when made confidently, after good discussions, and with clear marching orders.

 

Results vs Status and Ego

Another viewpoint that hit me is that the opposite of attention to results is attention to status or ego. I never thought about it that way but find it intriguing and true. What does a team care about when it does not care about results? Why would one be part of a team if one does not care about results? Taking it to a different context, there might be some quite decent answers like for social reasons, to get motivated, to make friends. That’s fine in some contexts, but rather describes a club or a community than a team. When thinking of a team, team status or individual status are common but wrong reasons to be part of a team. The teams’ results can be the only right focus for a team since “no amount of trust, conflict, commitment, or accountability can compensate for a lack of desire to win”.

Conclusion:

As mentioned, I appreciate this model for it’s wholistic view of teams, their dysfunctions, and improvements. As the author says himself, the concept is simple, the implementation is hard. I also appreciate the timeframe that Lencioni gives for building a great team, it’s a long-term activity. Thinking about our team, much has improved since we started and I believe since I have now a clearer perspective of what team building can look like and what a great team looks like, our team will become more effective and stronger as a result. Practically, I will host a Paja about this topic and am curious how our team will perform with the team assessment that the author provides.

Sources:

Lencioni P. 2002a. The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.

https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/-/9780787960759/ch44.html E-book. 147

Lencioni P. 2002a. The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.

https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/-/9780787960759/ch44.html E-book. 158

Lencioni P. 2002a. The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.

https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/-/9780787960759/ch44.html E-book. 163

Lencioni P. 2002a. The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.

https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/-/9780787960759/ch44.html E-book. 167

Lencioni P. 2002a. The five dysfunctions of a team: a leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.

https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/-/9780787960759/ch44.html E-book. 158

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