Teamwork is an essential component of any organization. It involves the cooperation of individuals with a common goal, working together to achieve a shared objective. Effective teamwork can bring about great success, but it can also be quite delicate. The collaboration between team members must be carefully managed to prevent conflicts and promote mutual understanding. As we all know, the success of a team depends on several factors, such as communication, trust, accountability, and leadership. Without these elements, the team's overall performance can suffer. In this context, the importance of understanding and addressing the challenges of teamwork cannot be overstated. This is where the concept of the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team" comes into play.
The "Five Dysfunctions of a Team" is a well-known model developed by Patrick Lencioni that outlines five common dysfunctions that teams often face. These dysfunctions can impact a team's ability to work together effectively and achieve its goals. In the following sections, we will explore each of the five dysfunctions and discuss ways to overcome them.
These dysfunctions are hierarchical, meaning that each dysfunction builds on the one before it. Inattention to Results stems from the team's failure to prioritize their collective goals and outcomes. Instead of focusing on achieving their shared objectives, team members become more preoccupied with their individual interests and agendas.
Inattention to Results is a symptom of Avoidance of Accountability. When team members fail to hold each other accountable for their commitments and behaviors, they allow poor performance and behavior to go unaddressed. This lack of accountability breeds mediocrity and undermines the team's ability to achieve its goals.
Avoidance of Accountability results from a Lack of Commitment. When team members are not fully committed to the team's goals and objectives, they are less likely to take ownership of their responsibilities and more likely to avoid accountability. A lack of commitment also leads to ambiguity and indecisiveness, as team members may hesitate to take decisive action out of fear of making the wrong decision or upsetting others.
Lack of Commitment stems from Fear of Conflict. When team members are afraid to engage in healthy debate and constructive disagreement, they avoid the tough conversations that are necessary to establish clear goals and objectives. Instead of addressing issues directly, team members may engage in passive-aggressive behaviour or hold grudges, which can erode trust and undermine the team's ability to work together effectively.
Finally, Fear of Conflict is rooted in Absence of Trust, which is the most foundational dysfunction. When team members do not trust one another, they are less likely to engage in open and honest communication, share their thoughts and feelings, or admit their weaknesses and mistakes. Instead, they may try to protect themselves by withholding information or putting up a facade of competence, which only serves to reinforce the lack of trust and perpetuate the cycle of dysfunction.
If you find yourself in a situation where your team starts to underperform, even though you know all of its members to be extremely competent performers, then you should start looking out for signs of these five dysfunctions. The first indicator is of course the performance itself. If a team of high performers performs only average you know that there is something in the bushes. So, ask yourself, why would this happen? Well, most likely because the team no longer functions as a team but as a mere collection of individuals.
Despite its benefits, teamwork contains an inherent danger, that can lead to a situation where the team together performs worse than each individual would by themselves. But shouldn’t it be the case that more minds should always be able to produce more, and perform better than a single one? Not if, the presence of each becomes a hindrance to everyone else. Not if the group dynamic is torn between conflicting goals.
If king, general, captain, and soldier have different goals in mind the war machinery will tear itself apart from the inside out. Teamwork exponentiates performance if the team is properly bound together. But it can also wreck performance if it is not.
Selfishness is one of the products of a dysfunctional team. If its members perform for personal recognition you know that the core principles of teamwork aren’t properly implemented. Because teamwork means that you can only win if the team wins. And that if the team loses, everyone loses. But if personal goals start to replace the mutual goal of the team, that principle is disregarded. Selfishness indicates that people aren’t paying attention to the team's results, but only their own.
But what causes this degeneration of the team’s cohesion? Selfishness can be the product of the avoidance of accountability. Accountability is upheld partly by the threat of authoritative punishment, but more importantly by the sense of reciprocity that is integral to teamwork. If I fall short on my share of responsibilities, then others will have to pull the weight. In a functional team, no one is afraid of calling the others out, when they do something wrong. And nobody has to be afraid of being called out, because everyone knows that criticism is meant constructively and for the good of everyone. I always have to think of the movie Lion King, when the old king Mufasa reprimands his little son Simba for putting himself in danger, but then they rough and tumble play with each other the next moment.
That’s ok because both of them know that all criticism is meant well, that it’s nothing personal, and that sympathy is not affected by the scolding. The same should be true for a working team. Everyone should be willing to call each other out, so everyone can learn. And conversly, everyone would be willing to be accountable in a functioning team. It’s nothing personal. It’s about optimizing performance for the mutual goal. And there is really nothing that makes people perform as that kind of peer pressure does. Sure the threat of authoritative punishment can be a deterrent, but letting your colleagues down is unbearable for most people. If that fear of letting your teammates down is lost, because nobody is willing to speak the unpleasant truth, then you lose group cohesion and the team falls apart.
But then what is it that stops people from calling out those things that are going wrong? It’s because the superordinate goal isn’t important enough. People don’t feel a commitment to that goal anymore - not like they used to. And the reason for that is that they lost their grasp on that goal. It becomes impalpable because they’re not really involved in the decision-making processes. And why is that? It’s because they take themselves out of the equation. Because they are too afraid of making critical statements about you (their boss) or the other team members.
They’re avoiding conflict. That means that your working environment has become a place where truthfulness costs too much because everyone’s afraid of conflict and of what would happen if someone spoke a word of truth. And this is where we reach the core of the problem: The absence of trust. That is the key factor here. Trust is the lubricate that keeps all of the inner workings of your team running. If trust fades, performance corrodes. The absence of trust is poison to the workings of your team, on all levels.
When the members of your team cannot trust you or their colleagues they cannot communicate honestly, which will entail failure somewhere down the line. Recall the story of the Lion King again. Trust is when you can take your superior’s or your colleague’s criticism, knowing that they only have the best for you in mind. When being criticized is informative, not hurtful. And when there is no threat of resentment in the air.
Trust can be accomplished by one person (most effectively, the leader) showing vulnerability and fallibility because then everyone else knows that they can be fallible as well. And that talking about it, won’t be detrimental to them. Trust is something that needs to grow and be sustained like an English lawn. But since it is the most important fertiliser for teamwork, it’s a necessary investment.
So, if this is the situation you’re facing, then you can create a strategy by promoting those underlying factors whose absence created these dysfunctions in the first place. Here’s a list:
1. Build trust: The foundation of a strong team is trust, so it's important to address any issues that are hindering trust, such as communication problems or unresolved conflicts. This can involve team-building exercises or candid conversations to address concerns and build relationships.
2. Encourage healthy conflict: Conflict can be a positive force for a team if it's handled in a healthy way. Encourage team members to express their opinions and concerns, and facilitate open and respectful debate to arrive at the best decisions.
3. Foster commitment: Teams need to have a clear sense of purpose and direction to remain committed. This involves creating a shared vision and goals, and encouraging team members to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities.
4. Establish peer-to-peer accountability: To maintain a high-performing team, team members need to hold each other accountable for their actions and work together to achieve their goals. This can involve setting clear expectations, establishing metrics for success, and holding regular check-ins to review progress.
5. Focus on results: Teams need to remain focused on achieving their goals and producing results. This involves setting measurable goals, tracking progress, and celebrating successes.
Overall, the key to addressing the five dysfunctions is to create an environment of trust, open communication, and shared commitment to goals. By fostering these qualities, teams can overcome the obstacles that lead to dysfunction and achieve high performance.
I hope you enjoyed this article and could take something helpful away from it. Thank you for reading and I'll see you in the next one.
Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.