The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Fabien Bataille is the owner of the blog Agile, Lean et Companie (in French), which contains many insightful articles and book reviews. I invited him to be the first guest on this blog, with a translation of our favorite articles from his site. Today, a review of a classic management book.
Among a bunch of books that a former colleague of mine left behind, I was especially interested in this one about team spirit.
After a first experience as a manager that didn’t go so well, where I had the feeling to always improvise instead of really managing, I’ve been looking for the best way to manage people (if this really exists).
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
This American book from a management guru (Patrick Lencioni), New York Times best seller in 2002, is written like a novel, thus very pleasant to read.
Even if it is a fiction, when following the book characters and seeing what happens to them, we get the feeling of a lot of ‘déjà vu’ situations in our professional lives and this makes us think back on them.
This book presents a pyramid model (see below) of 5 behaviors that every team member should acquire to get a team to function properly!
These 5 behaviors, which we can view as different levels of team maturity, build upon each other. The higher level cannot be enabled if the level just below does not exist and has not been consolidated.
5 dysfunctions of a team
It all starts with trust
We cannot build a team without trust. Team members should trust each other and thus accept to show their vulnerability.
One of the thing that restrains this transparency is the fear of being vulnerable. There is a great temptation to refrain from providing others with information about one’s private life or personal shortcomings, so as not to be exposed to criticism.
Not being afraid of conflicts
Once all team members trust each other, we must address the next higher level, namely not being afraid to address conflicting issues concerning the running of the company.
Evidence of non-achievement of this level is precisely the absence and/or avoidance of conflicts, giving the impression of a false harmony in the team while latent conflicts accumulate.
Conversely this level is successful if the team members are able to express and defend their views but also to listen to others in order to present their arguments.
At the end of this “conflict” when a decision is finally taken, the stakeholders must be convinced by this decision, or at least be committed to implement it. Which brings us to the next level.
This third level, which is built on the previous one (acceptance of conflict), is the one of commitment.
Indeed if the second level allows for “frank discussions” to commit to a decision, it is also essential that once the decision is made, it is put into action.
Failure at this level can prove that the conflicts seen in the previous stage have not been fully exhausted and the decisions accepted.
Failure to take this step is illustrated by the ambiguity of the actions of team members. Their action are not clear in the light of decisions taken. It may be wise in this case to return to the previous step, in order to handle previous arguments once and for all, or to address new arguments that were not taken into account.
The fourth level, which, like other levels, is accessible only if the previous level has been achieved, is the acceptance of being liable for the commited actions.
Failure at this level is noticeable by how some team members avoid their responsibilities, or by a leniency toward poor results compared to the set target.
Each team member needing to rely on other team members, it is important that everyone assumes his/her responsibilities in order for the team to go forward.
Attention to results
The fifth level, “attention to results”, is a logical continuation of the previous level. This level can be skewed by problems of ego and personal status. Indeed some may want to put their personal goals before the team or business goals that had been previously established.
This book presents a practical solution to create a more effective team. The model is simple enough to be easy to remember, and we start to be thinking about our team, trying to guess which level it has reached or where it is stuck.
The writing style of the book as a novel and its structure allow us to have the presentation of the method in a first part. In a second part we find some potential problems and solutions to address them.
These solutions are mostly to fire talented people who fail to complete all the steps listed in the method. This dismissal being caused by their ego or due to personal objectives that start to conflict with those of the team and/or of the company.
It may be on the latter, “how to change people who have difficulty with teamwork”, that the reader can be left unsatisfied.
Although the book presents a couple of techniques, for example “how to build trust”, I would have liked it to introduce more of them, and for each level. This perhaps means that we reached the limits of the writing structure as a novel that doesn’t really work as a solution catalog.
It is also possible that the author takes it for granted that these human qualities or flaws are unchangeable or so hard to change that it is easier to replace people instead of trying to develop them.
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