The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick M. Lencioni, offers what it bills as a fable dramatizing a team’s shift from dysfunction to function. It’s a little annoyingly patronizing in how it lays out the fable, and it’s also annoying how much it relies upon stereotypes (e.g. the spectrum-ish CTO or the sort of diva marketing personality), but it’s also fairly useful and easy to follow, and it’s a small time investment.

The five dysfunctions are (indented bullets are quotes from the book):

  • Absence of trust (the bottom of the pyramid)
  • Fear of conflict (building on absence of trust)
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

In a nutshell, if you lack trust on your team, you likely also have a fear of conflict because people don’t feel like they can engage in constructive conversations when they disagree. This in turn leads to a failure of commitment since there hasn’t been room for team members to feel heard and to get on board in spite of reservations. The prior three build to lead to an absence of accountability — without trust and comfort with conflict, it’s difficult to hold people accountable, and without commitment to the direction, people might actually resist being held accountable since they weren’t on board in the first place. Finally, these can all build toward a failure to get results. If you weren’t committed, you might prize your own ego or resume above that of the team and wind up hurting the team as a result. In any case, you’re likely pulling in different directions rather than pulling toward the same results based on a shared commitment.

A lot of the dysfunction portrayed in the book is very familiar to me based on my own job experience, and I can personally vouch for how some of the dysfunctions can lead to poor results.

The key takeaways for me:

  • Always work to build trust.
  • Model vulnerability when opportunity arises (and mean it).
  • Model holding members of the team accountable, and respond well when you mess up and are constructively held accountable by a teammate.
  • Consider trying out the Team Effectiveness Exercise the book offers.
  • Spend less time delaying and waiting for perfect data, as doing so can lead to decision paralysis and lack of confidence.
  • Consistently review key decisions and messaging.
  • If there’s difficulty getting commitment, take a few minutes to consider worst case scenarios as a way of gut-checking actual risk next to unfounded fear.
  • Commit publicly to specific results.

If you’re working with a team that’s not collaborating well to accomplish things, this book may be worth a read. It’s a quick read, and the dramatization of a team working through the dysfunctions may be useful, but be forewarned that it’s also a pretty ham-handed fictionalization of a scenario probably not many of us would actually be in, so the book itself (vs. the info distilled above) is only so useful.