Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Summary, Key Takeaways & Review

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Summary: Key Takeaways & Review

Each member of an orchestra is a master of their instrument. But the success of an orchestra doesn’t rely on individual brilliance alone. It takes the efforts and coordinated actions of the ensemble to create a symphony that captivates the audience.

An orchestra is one of the best examples of a high-functioning team. Business leaders can take cues from an orchestra conductor to build a team that values individual talents and drives collective efforts to valuable endeavors. 

However, building a functional team is also being aware of the dysfunctions that could impact a team, and what better way to understand than by breaking down the legendary work—The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. In this The Five Dysfunctions of a Team summary, we’ll highlight key takeaways for you as a team leader and a few of our favorite sections of the book.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Book Summary at a Glance

Patrick Lencioni is an American writer accredited with numerous books on management, executive team dynamics, and organizational health. He is also the founder of The Table Group, a management consulting firm primarily focused on helping executive teams build healthier organizations and cohesive teams.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the story introduces the fictional character of Kathryn Petersen, a 57-year-old executive appointed as the new CEO of a young Silicon Valley company, DecisionTech.

In this leadership fable, Kathryn, a seasoned executive, has an exceptional team-building talent. Through Kathryn, Lencioni tells us about the five dysfunctions of a team that drain the team’s efforts, discourage employees, and prevent the team from achieving its full potential for collective results. 

The protagonist presents the five dysfunctions of a team in the form of a pyramid with five interconnected levels. 

The author lists five simple questions business leaders should ask themselves to evaluate the level of dysfunction in the team:

  • Do team members openly and readily express their opinions? 
  • Are team meetings compelling and productive? 
  • Does the team make decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus or peer pressure?
  • Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings? 
  • Do team members sacrifice their personal interests for the good of the team?
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team summary
via Amazon

Key Takeaways from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

1. Team dynamics matter

Your team might consist of the most talented individuals, but that doesn’t guarantee success. The book emphasizes good team cohesiveness over talent as the critical factor for building a high-functioning team.

2. The role of leadership

Kathryn takes the role of a leader to transform the fractured team into a high-performing one. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to set a tone of trust among team members in the first few weeks, along with accountability and team collaboration.

3. Constructive conflict

The book challenges the thought that conflicts are harmful to team performance. In fact, if conflicts are handled constructively and each member is free to voice their opinion and engage in healthy dissent, conflicts are productive for your team and lead to better decisions and more innovation.

4. Commitment is everyone’s responsibility

Team goals are easier to achieve when the entire team is committed to the vision and goals. To motivate everyone to achieve common goals, ensure you get the team’s buy-in by involving them in the brainstorming process. 

5. Two-way communication is a must

Dysfunctional teams fail to see the full potential of their employees because there is no room for openly discussing or brainstorming ideas. Successful teams thrive on honest and open communication where employees share their ideas and vulnerabilities without inhibitions. Use two-way communication to improve relationships within your team, between employees and stakeholders, and to let everyone know their opinions are valued. 

6. Results over ego

A healthy workplace has no room for ego. As a leader, you must reinforce that departmental interests and the team’s success precede ego. Build a culture of collaboration in the workspace and encourage team members to maintain a positive outlook. 

7. Building a good team culture takes time 

Building a collaborative culture and an environment of mutual trust takes time, especially in a new team. Consistent efforts, transparent communication, and strong commitment are key to achieving the desired outcome. 

8. Constant improvement

You must constantly monitor your processes and activities to identify areas of improvement. Keep evaluating team dynamics to know if you’re going in the right direction and what you can do better to build a close-knit team. 

Breaking Down Each Dysfunction: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Summary

Dysfunction 1: Absence of trust

The first dysfunction that Lencioni highlights is a lack of vulnerability-based trust. He argues that trust in a workplace is determined by how comfortable employees are to share their ideas and thoughts, be vulnerable in front of their team, and have confidence in their colleagues’ support.

When team members don’t have enough trust in each other, they don’t feel like opening up and being vulnerable about their weaknesses and mistakes. Without trust, employees focus on impressing their colleagues and disguising their limitations.

How to overcome this dysfunction

It is not possible to develop vulnerability-based trust overnight. It needs shared experience and a good understanding of each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. However, teams can accelerate the process through some simple exercises:

Personal histories exercise: This is a simple team-building exercise of 20 minutes. The team starts by asking each other questions about their lives, like hobbies, family, and childhood to establish an initial bond among each other. 

Team effectiveness exercise: Ask team members to mention one area where their colleagues do the best and one area where they need much improvement. This shows each team member where to improve their performance. 

Personality and behavior preference profile: With tools like Myers-Briggs, team members can take part in an assessment to understand each other’s personality type in more detail. When people know their colleagues’ personality types, they empathize with each other’s work styles and can better understand their situation. 

360-degree feedback: Each team member takes turns to evaluate themselves, their peers, direct reports, subordinates, and leaders. The feedback is shared equally this way.

The role of a leader in building trust

The leadership team should share their vulnerabilities with the team, asking for feedback and suggestions, and reinforcing that this is a learning exercise. Team leaders should build an environment of trust where vulnerability is not punished and open communication is encouraged.

Dysfunction 2: Fear of conflict

Lencioni dives deeper into the two types of conflict: Ideological and Personal. 

Ideological conflict happens when there is a difference of opinions and approaches to solving a problem. Personality conflicts are personal attacks with hostility. 

Both types of conflicts can prevent individuals from achieving the team’s goals if they’re emotionally charged and not logical. 

On the other hand, the absence of constructive and ideological conflict between team members can create artificial harmony. Trying to avoid conflict is like inviting more trouble in the future. The fundamental change needed here is to conduct healthy debates and discuss issues openly, without holding on to grudges. 

How to overcome this dysfunction

Lencioni suggests different ways by which leaders can help teams become comfortable with conflict:

Mining: Investigate and pull out buried disagreements between team members and let them out in the open for everyone to engage in productive, healthy conflict.

Real-time permission: Some team members will get uncomfortable with the level of debate. In such cases, every other participating member has the right to interrupt them and remind them that the session has a productive reason behind it.

Other tools: The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument is a popular tool for understanding how people handle conflict. The results from the test will help team members understand each other’s attitude towards conflict and work better together.

The role of a leader in overcoming the fear of conflict

Your role as a leader is to resist the temptation of stopping your team members from conflict. Instead, think of ideas to encourage productive conflict. Leaders can also use their own behavior with conflict as a model to show team members how to approach it.

Dysfunction 3: Lack of commitment

The third dysfunction highlights clarity and buy-in as the crucial factors influencing team commitment. Your team will feel committed when they are clear about the goal and you have taken their buy-in by letting them share ideas and engage in a healthy debate. 

The two most significant causes of lack of commitment are:

Consensus: Dysfunctional teams tend to spend too much time trying to build consensus for every decision. On the other hand, effective teams understand the difference between consensus and buy-in. It is possible to achieve team buy-in even with differences of opinion, by letting everybody be heard. 

Certainty: Organizations often have to commit to a course of action without the comfort of certainty of outcome.  Great teams understand the importance of making a decision rather than delaying it, trying to perfect every nuance of the plan.

How to overcome this dysfunction

Cascading messaging: After every meeting, summarize the discussion to ensure that every team member is clear about the expectations and that they will be held accountable for executing tasks.

Deadlines: Set milestones and deadlines for completing a project or meeting collective goals.

Contingency and worst-case scenario: A team struggling with a decision might benefit from discussing worst-case scenarios of the decision, which can help articulate and face fears. In addition, talking through contingency plans helps build confidence in a proposed plan by showing team members that there are ways to avoid team failure. 

Low-risk exposure therapy: The goal of this therapy is to encourage employees to make decisions on their own. The approach is to push them to be decisive in a low-risk situation and develop confidence in their decision-making skills.

The role of a leader in building commitment

A leader should encourage teams to make decisions even without complete certainty, and without the need for consensus. They must push teams to adhere to timelines and show accountability for execution. 

Dysfunction 4: Avoidance of accountability

Accountability in teams is harmed when team members are unwilling to call out their peers’ negative behavior because they don’t want tough conversations.

Lencioni argues that this avoidance is detrimental to the organization in the long run. Good teams hold each other accountable for maintaining high work standards, thus showing respect for each other. The desire to not let their team down can motivate team members to put in their best efforts. 

How to overcome this dysfunction

Accountability can be developed at the workplace by following some simple processes:

Publication of goals and standards: Publishing goals makes employees aware of their and their teammates’ responsibilities and what success will look like

Simple and regular progress review: Conduct regular sessions to allow team members to share feedback and honest concerns, verbally or in writing. 

Team rewards: Give more weightage to team rewards than individual rewards. It increases accountability because everyone prioritizes teamwork over chasing their own goals. It also makes team members push colleagues to do better.

The role of a leader in creating a culture of accountability

Leaders should encourage teams to take accountability for results without needing leadership intervention. They should also be prepared to step in when the team fails.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to results 

The fifth dysfunction according to Lencioni is the tendency of some team members to care more about their individual interests than team goals.

Two major distractions that diverge employees’ attention are:

Team status: This happens when people are only interested in being a part of a team and have no interest in team results. 

Individual status: Team members are interested only in their career growth and individual performance compared to the team’s efforts. 

How to overcome this dysfunction

To overcome this dysfunction, leaders must ensure that only behaviors that contribute towards achieving team goals are rewarded.

Public declaration of results: Publicly announcing the team’s goals and results motivates team members to work harder for the targeted outcomes. 

Result-based rewards: Tying rewards and compensation to specific results can motivate your team to perform better. 

The role of a leader in ensuring focus on results

Leaders should make the focus on results clear in their day-to-day behavior. They should ensure recognition and rewards for team members prioritizing team work over individual interests. 

Here are our five favorite quotes from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

The enemy of accountability is ambiguity.

Your team will display higher standards of accountability only when they’re clear about their responsibilities and expectations from them.

Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.

Pushing each other in a team often leads to difficult conversations, but it’s a sign that they care for the team. This action builds trust that it is in the team’s best interest.

Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.

Great teams excel in an environment of trust. They’re not afraid to display their vulnerabilities, like weaknesses and mistakes. Due to the high level of transparency, it’s easy for the team to discuss issues and find solutions collaboratively. 

Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.

To build a competitive advantage, business leaders must focus on teamwork instead of working in silos. Working together combines everyone’s efforts in the right direction, which is powerful and rarely seen in organizations. 

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.

When all the employees work towards a single goal, it becomes easy to win any market, industry, or against a competitor.

If you enjoyed this The Five Dysfunctions of a Team summary, you may also want to read this Extreme Ownership summary.

Apply The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Learning with ClickUp

Throughout the book, Patrick Lencioni suggests ideas and tools for overcoming the five dysfunctions in a team. 

The book shows us that success is mainly about teamwork, clarity around goals, and a focus on results. Organizations today can take advantage of helpful tools that can build cohesion in a team and achieve results from group efforts. 

ClickUp is a cloud-based collaboration and project management tool that helps teams work together collaboratively toward shared goals. 

Here’s how ClickUp helps organizations create tight-knit and highly functional teams.

Accountability and results

ClickUp makes your team accountable and provides the right tools to deliver results. From goal-setting to task management, here’s how ClickUp plays a crucial role:

ClickUp Goals: Set Sprint goals and automatically track progress according to the timelines. Display the results on weekly scorecards so everyone knows where they are in their task list. Clarity on goals and progress is the basis for building accountability, team spirit, and a results-focused mindset.

ClickUp 3.0 Dashboard Bundle With Team Goals
Break down goals, tasks, agile points, and project statuses in the highly customizable ClickUp 3.0 Dashboard

ClickUp Docs: Create wikis to centralize all the necessary information. Share it with your team and collaborate with them in real time. Link these docs to tasks so the team can access everything in one place.

ClickUp Docs 3.0
ClickUp Docs for documenting and sharing important information with the team

ClickUp Tasks: Assign tasks to multiple members and create sub-tasks to delegate work to the right people. View these tasks differently, like Calendar view, Box view, or Mind Map, to visualize the work in one place and take action quickly. This is a simple way of ensuring that all team members work on things that will contribute to the desired team goal. 

ClickUp 3.0 Task view Adding Assignees
Easily delegate work by assigning tasks directly to the team or @mentioning them in a comment to turn your thoughts into action items

Choose the ClickUp Simple Task Management Template to create a standard format for recurring tasks and avoid spending time designing from scratch.

Set reminders to stay on top of your deliverables. Get email notifications on your desktop or mobile — you choose what works best for you. Assign tasks to team members, track the progress, and visualize the results over interactive dashboards. 

Communication and collaboration

The ClickUp Chat View is the best way to discuss ideas and create channels for specific topics with team members. Chat View keeps communication streamlined, and everyone gets real-time updates on the latest action items.

ClickUp Chat View
Bring your conversations to ClickUp Chat View and collaborate with others in real-time 

Share links, videos, or documents within chat to share references. Use /slash command shortcuts to create a bulleted list or insert code blocks. Stay on top of all the updates from the notifications bar of the Chat View.

If a new task comes up, assign the task to a member by tagging them instead of having to send separate emails. Think of ClickUp as a single source of truth for all your team collaboration needs. 

Assigning comments in ClickUp is the easiest way to act on immediate ideas, urgent tasks, and impromptu plans. It saves time and removes the dependency on another tool for assigning tasks to employees. 

Check all the assigned comments on the left side of the screen and resolve them as they get completed. Filter the comments assigned to your name and the ones that you assign to others to keep track of tasks. 

Ready-made templates 

Have you ever struggled with creating a communication plan every time there was a new project? Creating a communication plan requires work, but it simplifies communication within the team when done correctly. 

The Communication Plan Template by ClickUp is a standard document for planning business communication. Decide the best channels, organize communication, and monitor the performance of your communication efforts.

Use the ClickUp Communication Plan template to create a process roadmap for seamless team and customer communication

The plug-and-play template allows you to outline goals and assign tasks to team members. Brainstorm ideas with the team over ClickUp Whiteboard to ensure clarity and buy-in. Set up notifications to track progress and monitor tasks to ensure maximum productivity. 

Build High Performing Teams with ClickUp

We hope you found this The Five Dysfunctions of a Team summary helpful. In this book, Lencioni touches upon the five common issues in teams that reduce productivity and negatively impact team dynamics. 

Use ClickUp’s project management tool to avoid these dysfunctions by establishing better communication, enhancing teamwork, and providing much-needed clarity around goals and results to help your teams perform their best. 

Sign up for ClickUp to get started. 

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