The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is Patrick Lencioni’s book on what makes great teamwork (or not work). It’s a good overview of the psychology of the inner working and psychology of groups.
- Teamwork is a huge competitive advantage: make it a priority
- Trust is a key element of performance, and it starts with the leader’s vulnerability in admitting his mistakes
- Everyone has to be on board with the final decision, even when there is no consensus
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team uses a made up story to explain the key tenets of what makes a functional or dysfunctional team.
I will skip the story for the most part and focus on the key takeaways.
It’s not easy to exactly define what makes team great, but there is a lot of consensus around one trait: cohesiveness.
Cohesiveness is the adjective that identifies “teamwork”.
The importance of cohesiveness can be routinely experienced in team sports, where a cohesive team of good or even average players routinely beat the dysfunctional team of stars.
Why Talented Team Perform Poorly Without Teamwork
Patrick Lencioni says that the (potentially) star performers in poor teams waste time and energy in politics and game playing.
The politics and games take focus away from work and performance, resulting in lower morale, lower engagement and lack of focus.
1. Trust: The Foundations of Great Teams
When there is trust the team is free to communicate openly about any issue, which leads to all issues being brought to the table.
And for all issues being brought to the table, everyone feels free to say what they think, and the best solution is more likely to emerge -without anyone getting hurt-.
To foster trust, the author says people must embrace vulnerability.
And the first person to show vulnerability should be the leader. In the parable of DecisionTech, the new CEO Kathryn Peterson started by sharing her weaknesses, her past mistakes and even admitting she had been fired in the past.
Trust in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is what Ray Dalio refers to as “radical opens” in his book Principles. I personally think trust is an oversimplification that doesn’t capture the full psychological complexities of what’s needed for an open culture.
2. Constructive Conflict
Constructive conflict is what allows teams to openly debate ideas. And openly debate idea is the best way to increase the likelihood of reaching the best possible decision.
To be constructive a conflict must be focused on the topic and decision, and not on personal agendas.
Great teams know that a decision is better than no decision at all. And they put their personal egos and agendas aside to stand behind any decision: even the ones they didn’t initially want.
Lencioni says that it’s critical that everyone gets a chance to be heard. Once people feel that their opinion has been heard and considered that’s often enough to make them feel as part of the decision making, even if the final decision is not what they advocated for.
4. Peer to Peer Accountability
For me this was the best and most insightful part of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
The author says that when good rapport develops in a team people also become reluctant to hold each other responsible for results and top performance.
Ironically, that’s exactly what ruins those relationships as people hold back from what they really think and resentment can fester.
Also when there is no peer accountability everyone feels less accountable for the final result. And the full omen of discipline and keeping a high standard falls to the team leader.
But when there is trust in a team people know that any possible criticism is not a personal attack but it’s for the common good.
And they come to respect colleagues who help them tweak their performance as they know everyone is adhering to the same high standards.
5. Focus on Collective Results
Great team don’t focus on personal achievements but on collective, team achievements.
The author uses the example of Katryn’s husband, a basketball coach who had to let go of the most talented player in the team because he didn’t care whether the team won or lost but only for how much he scored.
Lencioni says that the best goals are clearly defined and easy to measure.
This is another part I didn’t particularly appreciate.
I don’t see necessarily a dichotomy between “own selfish interests” and team’s interests.
Also many star performers are often pushed to achieve by their strong high drive and hunger for victory. I don’t think that superstars should be dropped by the team but you should find solutions to make their talent work for the collective good.
Check Eleven Rings to see the experience of a man who’s coached some of the most talented basketball players ever.
For example at DecisionTech Katryn’s goal was to have 18 customers by the end of the year. That was a common goal for everyone.
The result was that there were fewer fiefs in the company. The engineering department was willing to help and support the sales team instead of protecting its resource to achieve its own goals.
Great Team Spend Time Together
Lencioni makes the point that great, top performing teams, spend a lot of time together.
Real Life Applications
Hold Colleagues Accountable
Don’t be afraid of holding colleagues accountable. If you don’t, it will breed resentment. If you do it tactfully, it will develop trust and respect.
Lead by Example
If you’re the team leader, but also if you’re a team member, never forget this simple rule: be the change you want to see in others.
Trust is Not Free Communication
To me it’s a bit simplistic to say that trust fosters open communication. Actually, I don’t believe that’s the case. It’s a growth mindset, an antifragile ego and a bigger focus on results than being right that allow for open communication.
Personal Drive VS Collective Results
I feel that the personal drive for achievement does not stand in direct contrast to good teamwork. We all have our own egoistical drive and we should leverage team for results, and not trying to squash them.
Great Team Overview
Overall The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a very good overview on the inner workings and psychology of team effort.
The Five Dysfunction of a Team
There is a an audiobook available on YouTube:
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is an awesome book on teamwork.
With that being said, it misses a few key psychological aspects.
For example, “trust” is a gross oversimplification of what makes people open up. There are deeper and more specific personal psychology mindsets that contribute to a team opening up.
And it too easily labels personal drives as “harmful”, which is a common but imperfect way of looking at what is, after all, a natural drive for each one of us.
That’s my main gripe with a book which is otherwise a very, very, good overview of what makes teamwork.