I love the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” written by one of my favorite management coaches & leader (Patrick Lencioni). I have read this book from front to back once, and have reviewed it multiple times. Lencioni says, “Teamwork—not finance, not strategy, not technology—remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
Lencioni goes on to identify five key elements that can make or break a team. If you’ve ever been part of a really good team (or a really bad one), you will probably recognize the wisdom in these elements. I find this resource helpful, insightful, and very practical. Enjoy my review of the book, taken right from it.
The founder of a company that grew to a billion dollars in annual revenue once told me, “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.”
Teamwork—not finance, not strategy, not technology—remains the ultimate competitive advantage. But teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.
Understanding and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions
Organizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls, which I call the five dysfunctions of a team. These dysfunctions are not five distinct issues, but they form an interrelated model, making susceptibility to even one of them potentially lethal for the success of a team.
1. The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation of trust.
2. This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction which is fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.
3. A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team which is lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.
4. This lack of real commitment and buy-in causes team members to develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.
5. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team.
Like a chain with just one link broken, teamwork deteriorates if even a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish. Now imagine how members of truly cohesive teams behave:
1. They trust one another because of shared experiences over time, multiple instances of follow-through and credibility, and an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of team members.
2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas because they realize that healthy conflict is productive.
3. They commit to decisions and plans of action even without perfect information. When everyone has put their opinions and perspectives on the table they confidently commit to a decision knowing they have tapped into the collective wisdom of the entire group.
4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans, thereby demonstrating that they respect each other and have high expectations for one another’s performance.
5. They focus on the achievement of collective results by clarifying those results and rewarding only those behaviors and actions that contribute to those results.
The reality is that teamwork ultimately comes down to practicing a small set of principles over a long period of time. Ironically, teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results so elusive.
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