Book Takeaway – The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

Author: Patrick Lencioni
Published: April 11, 2002
Purchase Link


Your team meetings suck because the people in your meetings don’t trust each-other. Their lack of trust keeps them from participating in healthy conflict. Their lack of conflict produces few or no good ideas, and does nothing to encourage commitment to a shared purpose. Their lack of commitment withers away any sense of accountability to the team and destroys any hopes for reaching the results targeted by management.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team is a fictionalization of the above statements. In this fictional account, the executive team of a floundering tech company are forced into a context in which they have to work through each of the 5 key components of building an effective team. The story is surprisingly relatable and effectively presents each dysfunction in a non-academic setting. Below are my highly paraphrased notes on the 5 dysfunctions of a team.

Takeaway One – Trust

Everything we do hinges on trust. I especially struggle with trust. I don’t trust that my coworkers will come through for me on projects. I don’t trust that my input will be valued in meetings. I fear that telling my boss how I really feel about a decision will result in bad feelings. These are all real concerns, and EVERYONE faces this reality. The solution is to force trust back into the equation, even if its painful or scary. Trust is the foundation for everything else discussed in the book and this article.

But, the obvious question is, “How do I learn to trust the members of my team?”. Practice, and practice, and more practice in a safe environment. Trust is build through action over time. It is best produced organically and exemplified by management. But, it must start somewhere, and it must usually start small. In the book, the theoretical team goes through a team building experiment where they attempt to openly discuss their strengths and weaknesses. In doing so, they became more vulnerable and empathetic. This shared vulnerability created space for open discourse. Open discourse in turn creates conflict.

Takeaway Two – Conflict

Conflict is inevitable for any team. For any one goal, there can be dozens or hundreds of approaches for success. Many of those approaches will work well. But, a team must decide to follow just one approach if it wants to effectively manage its resources. In a normal, dysfunctional team, the conflict of decision making gets buried. Conflict is scary, and if I don’t trust that I can engage in conflict without loosing social capital, I am more likely to simply stay silent and “keep the peace”.

Unfortunately, this perceived conflict-free “peace” is actually a minefield of resentment. As much as I want to not stir up conflict, I also need to be heard. Without conflict, I won’t be able to actualize the value I place in my own ideas. And everyone on the team feels the same way. So, in reality, the true options are to either face the discomfort of external conflict and overcome that conflict, or allow a state of perpetual internal conflict through inaction. And this is why trust is vital. If I am able to engage in conflict with my team, knowing that I will not loose social capital in the process, I become a participant in the process, instead of a bystander.

Takeaway Three – Commitment

Participating in conflict produces statements about the team’s shared experience. Statements about how things are, how things should be, and what has to happen to move from context to the other. If there is healthy conflict in the team, there won’t be agreement on most of issues. That is good. Each team member brings a different set of lived experiences. The beauty of an effective team is that each member shares their experience, and then the team comes to an understanding about how to produce new value from that experience.

Not everyone has to agree with the outcome of a conflict. But, for the conflict to have value and produce trust in the process, everyone has to be committed to the outcome. Commitment is built when each team member is given the opportunity to safely voice their opinions and knowledge. It is possible to passionately disagree with someone’s idea, without devaluing the person.

Team meetings are boring because there is no passionate disagreement. Everyone is too scared or apathetic to speak up. And if/when they do, they are often resentful of any perceived negativity in their peers. Disagreement is seen as an attack on them personally, and not a healthy discourse on the merits of their idea. In a trust built team, victory is not found in being right or “winning” an argument, but in producing results (more on that later). Once everyone has shared their valuable input and conflicts have been worked out, the manager will then make a decision perfected by the conflicts shared by the group. The decision does not need to make everyone happy, but it does have to address conflict and create a common, results driven goal. The team will more readily commit to the goal, knowing that their participation was part of the decision making process.

Takeaway Four – Accountability

A committed team has shared ownership of the decision, and its ramifications. Speaking from experience, even if the outcome of a team conflict was not what I had hoped, when I see commitment from my team to achieve a shared goal, I feel personally accountable to the success of that goal. That accountability hinges on our ability to be vulnerable with each other and pursue healthy conflict.

Part of healthy conflict is keeping each-other accountable to the shared goals of the team. Otherwise, the conflict was a waste of time. Healthy accountability requires the commitment created through safe and and productive conflict. If I actively disagree and resent the decisions made by my management chain, any attempts at pushing me towards benchmarks and goals which fulfill their decisions will be a point of frustration and pain. But, if I am committed to the success of the goal, then gentle reminders of my accountability will be greeted with hospitable deference. Otherwise, I risk undermining the trust of the team through my failure to hold myself and others accountable to our shared goal.

Takeaway Five – Results

If I don’t trust the team, fear conflict, lack commitment, and don’t pursue mutual accountability, then my natural inclination is to direct my efforts towards my own ends and disregard the goal of the group. The results of the “shared” goal are meaningless to me, because I don’t share those goals! I wasn’t bought in. But, if I have built trust with my team, and worked through conflict to develop a actionable plan and real measurable results, then I am accountable to my efforts to achieve the shared goal. A healthy team is bought into the shared goal and cares more about the results of the team than individual compensation or accolades. Achieving team driven results is a positive feedback loop which builds trust, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and even more results.

Leave a Comment