Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team outlines the root causes of politics and dysfunction on the teams where you work, and the keys to overcoming them. Counter to conventional wisdom, the causes of dysfunction are both identifiable and curable. However, they don't die easily. Making a team functional and cohesive requires levels of courage and discipline that many groups cannot seem to muster. 

1. Absence of Trust

The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team. This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible. 

The Role of the Leader here is to Go First.

2.  Fear of Conflict

The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive, ideological conflict. Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result. 

The Role of the Leader here is to Mine for Conflict.

3. Lack of Commitment

The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to. Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled.

The Role of the Leader here is to Force Clarity and Closure.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable for their behaviours and performance. When teams don't commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team. 

The Role of the Leader here is to Confront Difficult Issues.

5.  Inattention to Results

The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success. Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren't held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers. 

The Role of the Leader here is to Focus on Collective Outcomes. 

Addressing the Dysfunctions

Like it or not, all teams are potentially dysfunctional. This is inevitable because they are made up of fallible, imperfect human beings. However, facing dysfunction and focusing on teamwork is particularly critical at the top of an organization because the executive team sets the tone for how all employees work with one another.

Counter to conventional wisdom, the causes of dysfunction are both identifiable and curable. However, they don't die easily. Making a team functional and cohesive requires levels of courage and discipline that many groups cannot seem to muster. 

To begin improving your team and to better understand the level of dysfunction you are facing, ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  • Are team meetings compelling and productive?
  • Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  • Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  • Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?

Although no team is perfect and even the best teams sometimes struggle with one or more of these issues, the finest organizations constantly work to ensure that their answers are "yes." If you answered "no" to many of these questions, your team may need some work.

The first step toward reducing politics and confusion within your team is to understand that there are five dysfunctions to contend with, and address each that applies, one by one. 

The Rewards

Striving to create a functional, cohesive team is one of the few remaining competitive advantages available to any organization looking for a powerful point of differentiation. Functional teams avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of lack of buy-in. Functional teams also make higher quality decisions and accomplish more in less time and with less distraction and frustration. 

Successful teamwork is not about mastering subtle, sophisticated theories, but rather about embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. 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 teamwork so elusive.

Exercises

To build trust in your team, you may like to use the personal histories exercise. Click here to access it. 

You may also like to complete the team effectiveness exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to give team members a forum for providing one another with focused, direct and actionable feedback about how their individual behaviour can improve the performance of the team. 

Conclusion

Teams willing to address the five dysfunctions can experience a number of benefits. In conclusion, high performing, cohesive teams:

  • Are comfortable asking for help, admitting mistakes and limitations and take risks offering feedback
  • Tap into one another's skills and experiences
  • Avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of lack of buy-in
  • Make higher quality decisions and accomplish more in less time with fewer resources
  • Put critical topics on the table and have lively meetings
  • Align the team around common objectives
  • Retain star employees