The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Patrick M. Lencioni
reviewed by Halime Inceler Sarihan
“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”
The book begins by telling the fable of a woman who, as CEO of a struggling Silicon Valley firm, took control of a dysfunctional executive committee and helped its members succeed as a team. After her first two weeks observing the problems at DecisionTech, Kathryn Petersen, its new CEO, had more than a few moments when she wondered if she should have taken the job because the executive team was totally dysfunctional. Kathryn asked very critical questions in each executive meeting: "We have a more experienced and talented executive team than any of our competitors. We have more cash than they do. 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 revenue and customer growth. How can we fix that?" The answer is Teamwork. The author believes, "Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare."
This book has two parts. The first part is the story of a new CEO who takes over the leadership of a company and takes on the task of transforming a dysfunctional team into a cohesive team. The second part of the book explains the five dysfunctions of a team and provides more details on how to build one that is both cohesive and effective.The Five Dysfunctions:
First Dysfunction - Absence of the trust.
The author explains that trust is the foundation of real teamwork. "Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability" (p. 63). The author emphasizes vulnerability, trust, and the ability to show a weakness without losing something - esteem, pride, or strength. This includes the leader. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.Second Dysfunction - Fear of Conflict.
The author explains that productive conflict is good. Discussion of issues without holding back for fear of reprisal, criticism, or dismissal is healthy for any team. "Harmony itself is good, I suppose, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict. But if it comes only as a result of people holding back their opinions and honest concerns, then it’s a bad thing" (p.92). Third Dysfunction - Lack of Commitment.
The author strongly belives that there can be no commitment without debate. "When people don’t unload their opinions and feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board" (p. 94). Fourth Dysfunction - Avoidance of Accountability.
Because of a lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. "People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t clearly bought in to the same plan" (p.99). Fifth Dysfunction - Inattention to Results.
If team members are not accountable then they will focus on themselves. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team: "…the ultimate dysfunction: the tendency of team members to seek out individual recognition and attention at the expense of results. And I’m referring to collective results – the goals of the entire team" (p.71).
"Our job is to make the results that we need to achieve so clear to everyone in this room that no one would even consider doing something purely to enhance his or her individual status or ego. Because that would diminish our ability to achieve our collective goals. We would all lose" (p.77).
The author explains how 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 (p. 189 – 190).
The story of the book and team characters are familiar and can be applied anywhere teamwork is involved, whether it is a large international company, a small department within a larger organization, or a school team. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
is quick read and contains a lot of good wisdom and information that will prove easy to digest and implement. The audio book version is more entertaining. This book is a must read for anyone who is a member of a team.
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