Here’s the scenario: You’ve got a new company. Extremely well funded, with high quality, cutting edge products. You’ve got an executive staff of corporate rock stars – truly the best of the best in their fields. And, without any explanation or apparent reason, your company is failing. Miserably.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a fable about exactly such a scenario. Katherine Peterson is hired on as CEO of DecisionTech and given exactly two objectives – 1) find the problem and 2) fix it. Through the brisk, 184 pages that make up this book’s “fable” section, we follow the first few months of Karen on the job. We meet her executive staff and learn what makes them tick. And we learn, very quickly, that there are some eerie similarities between the characters in Karen’s world and those in our own lives.
Lencioni uses the characters of DecisionTech to exemplify the five dysfunctions suggested in the title of the book. He also outlines identifiers that can indicate clearly if a team is suffering on a certain level. These dysfunctions are extremely common place – chances are you’ve experienced them in your own lives. The five dysfunctions (and respective indicators) are:
Inattention to RESULTS – ego and desire for personal status become major motivators
Avoidance of ACCOUNTABILITY – team members lower their standards
Lack of COMMITMENT – ambiguity on goals and team targets
Fear of CONFLICT – artificial harmony is dominant
Absence of TRUST – team members work to create an image of invulnerability
As with most things, the dysfunctions Lencioni identifies build on one another and are all interconnected. As a basic example – if you don’t trust that your teammates respect you and your opinion, you will avoid conflict for fear of ridicule or doubt. By not sharing your true thoughts through conflict, you will be much more reluctant to “buy in” and commit to team goals, (After all, you don’t agree that should even be the goal!) and you may not bother to clarify the goals at all. Since you weren’t really committed to the goal in the first place, you’re less likely to be accountable to the team goal, and more likely to be focused on simply making sure you save face in the event of the inevitable blow up. You can see too how you may lower your standards for your teammates if you’re trying to avoid conflict, and so on.
Lencioni uses section two of his book (the technical application of the lessons from the fable) to offer potential ways of working through the various problems. Interestingly, the solutions are really quite simple. That was “simple”, not easy. As Lencioni states clearly,
“Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.”
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, page 220
While any one of the five dysfunctions of a team (and their respective fixes) is worth looking at in detail, perhaps the most surprising (ie. least “common sensical”) is that of commitment.
Commitment is a team sport
This part may be obvious: “If we want to achieve as a team, we need to have a goal that we are all committed to.” Pretty straight forward stuff. Here’s the interesting twist: Most reasonable people do not have to agree with a group decision in order to buy in. The philosophy I love from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is:
“Disagree and commit.”
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, page 95
Consensus will get you know nowhere
The word “conflict” has a negative connotation. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unpleasant. It’s completely necessary in any successful relationship (be it at home, the office or at play). This is the beautiful thing about human beings; we’re all alike in our imperfections. We don’t agree on everything. And how could we? We all have different backgrounds, different experiences, different DNA. We’re different. And we need to celebrate that. People don’t need to be right all the time. What they need to be is heard. People (all of us) need to feel like our opinions matter and that they’re being acknowledged. And sometimes we have to speak loudly to make sure that happens. But we don’t always need to be right.
“Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, page 88
Keep the politics out of the office – have the confidence to speak your mind, and the courtesy to let others do the same.
If you wait ‘till you’re sure, you’re sure to be too late
One of the other major roadblocks for many organizations in committing comes from what’s often known as “analysis paralysis”; analyzing something for so long that the opportunity passes entirely. It’s called a “window” of opportunity for a reason. Every opportunity exists for a finite period of time, and then it’s gone forever. I love the expression – “Live your life. This is not the dress rehearsal.” Being a part of a strong team means having the confidence in one another and the organization to commit without every detail in front of you. Took this great insight from Seth Godin’s blog:
“Ten years ago, you had a shot of at least being aware of everything that mattered. Five years ago, you had to be really selective about what you took in, but at least it was possible to know what you didn’t know. Today, it’s impossible. Today, you can’t even read every article on a thin slice of a thin topic.”
It’s impossible to have all the details. Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case. Now, more than ever, we need to have faith in our teams. We need to commit.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a book for CEOs. It’s also a book for high school baseball coaches. It’s a book for parents and parents-to-be and parents who plan-to-be. It’s a book for anyone who’s ever been involved in a team dynamic and felt that maybe not everything was running as well as it could. In other words, it’s a book for all of us. And it’s a fun story to boot.