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5 Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team outlines the root causes of politics and dysfunction that can exist within teams and the keys to overcoming them. Counter to conventional wisdom, the causes of dysfunction are both identifiable and curable. However, they do not die easily. Importantly, making a team functional and cohesive requires high levels of courage and discipline.

  1. Absence of Trust
    • The fear of being vulnerable to 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" - meaning that as a leader you are responsible for establishing a team culture in which there is room to admit mistakes or weaknesses and use these as opportunities for growth and development.
  2. Fear of Conflict
    • The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive due to ideological conflict. Teams that are lacking trust are incapable of engaging in an 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" - keep an open eye for potential conflicts that may arise within your team and openly address them.
  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 do not commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviours that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.
    • The Role of the Leader here is to "Confront Difficult Issues" to overcome the aspects mentioned above.
  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 are not 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

How can Dysfunctions in Teams be addressed and resolved?

All teams are potentially dysfunctional in some way. However, facing dysfunction and focusing on teamwork is particularly critical at the top of an organisation because the executive team sets the tone for how all employees work with one another.

To begin improving your team and to better understand the level of dysfunction you are facing, ask yourself these 5 simple questions:

  1. Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  2. Are team meetings compelling and productive?
  3. Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  4. Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  5. 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 organisations 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.

    Why are Functional Teams Important? - 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 a 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.


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

    Other team-building exercises can help to build a foundation of trust and improve communication among your team.

    Conclusion - What do High-Performing Teams look like?

    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 a 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