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Combatting the 5 Dysfunctions of Teams

culture leadership team Mar 23, 2023
System & Soul Blog: Combatting the 5 Dysfunctions of Teams

If we work with people, we will run into people problems.

If we keep running into dysfunctional dynamics, but we never ask what we might be missing, maybe we need to stop putting out fires and start asking why fires are starting in the first place.

Patrick Lencioni has a killer model for this called The 5 Dysfunction of a Team. He lays out that at the root of their dysfunction, teams are fighting these five things:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

It's crucial for your team to get this in order to achieve those big bets you're making. So we want to give you a little more on winning against each of these dysfunctions.


Dysfunction 1: Absence of Trust

Teams without trust at the foundation just don't function. They...

  • conceal weakness and mistakes.
  • hesitate giving feedback.
  • jump to conclusions about other's intentions.
  • hold grudges.
  • dread meetings and spending time together.

The cure? Building vulnerability-based trust.

There’s a great model of the necessity of leading with vulnerability to create trust - it’s called ‘The Red Balloon Challenge.’ From this contest researchers learned that success happens when, instead of expecting to find a place for our vulnerability with a person or group once trust is established, we go first with vulnerability. Vulnerability has to precede trust.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code says about this idea:

“Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”

You might believe that if you give it all up, you may end up with nothing and of course, there is a risk in going first. But often what’s noted when this is studied is that the more vulnerability that’s presented, the greater the receptiveness and cooperation from the people on the other end.

Your role as the leader in this is to go first and create ways trust can be built:

  • Start small: understanding motivations and personality types.
  • Risk a little: ask people to give you feedback on how you personally build/break trust.
  • Go big: get and give 360-degree feedback - try this tool to make it easy.


Dysfunction 2: Fear of Conflict

What does it say about your leadership if your team gets into conflict?

It can feel like you've lost control. Like you're failing.

Too often, we make the mistake of jumping in only to push the issues into back-channels and create underlying, unresolved tension. The fact is, conflict is necessary for our teams to be effective. So, don't play referee, instead remember, you're the team captain. Show the way and set them up for success while they're in it:

  • Mine for conflict and surface reality.
  • Give permission to stay in it even when it gets uncomfortable.
  • Understand every person's part in it. Push for radical candor.


Dysfunction 3: Lack of Commitment

Perfect information doesn't exist. If our teams are holding out for all the right answers before they make decisions, then they're rarely making decisions. Instead they're living in the gap between deciding and actually committing to making it happen.

Teams that lack commitment...

  • create ambiguity.
  • communicate inconsistently.
  • repeat the same conversations over and over.
  • overanalyze before deciding.

To combat the lack of commitment:

  • Set clear deadlines.
  • Cascade information after every decision.
  • Have a contingency plan if a commitment goes sideways.
  • Start with low-risk decision making before you go big.

Your role in this is to push for decisions, and hold the team to commitments. Remember, deciding is better than being undecided, and being clear is better than being totally certain.


Dysfunction 4: Avoiding Accountability

Being a great team usually has less to do with talent, harmony, or passion and more to do with trust, candor, commitment, and accountability.

When teams avoid accountability...

  • high performers resent mediocre ones.
  • deadlines and goals get missed.
  • team leaders end up spending too much time playing hall monitor.

Accountability starts with early standards and continues when we hold people to them—even the little things. This goes for values and organizational habits as well as tasks and daily responsibilities. We recommend checking out S2 Sync as a tool to help you with this one.

Dysfunction 5: Inattention to Results

One of our clients has a company value that says, "Our success is my success." But that's not always the attitude for any given team.

Teams that don't focus on the results they can achieve together, don't win.

  • They may be proud of the mission and love being on the team, but are not doing much to contribute.
  • They may be achieving a lot individually, but not offering much collectively.
  • They may just be clocking in and out without really thinking at all about producing a winning result.

These are all good ways to keep losing. We start winning when…

  • results are committed to and made public.
  • results earn rewards.

Remember, you set the tone and the score. S2 Sync is a great tool for this dysfunction as well to help your team track results and discuss roadblocks easily.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Don’t miss the opportunity to break the cycle in your teams by addressing these five dysfunctions. We’ve distilled the techniques for combatting each dysfunction into a download for you to keep handy - get it here.

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