Version 7 (modified by Vijay Varadan, 5 years ago) (diff)


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Author: Patrick Lencioni
Feb 02 2017



Verdict: green-up-arrow.png Recommended

This book is well worth the 5 hours I spent reading it. In my 10+ years of managing teams, I have encountered these dysfunctions & (bad?) behaviors in mid-level & senior-level management teams. So, even though the example used is of an executive team (C-level), the methods in the book to root out the behaviors applies at all levels of management. This would've been an invaluable read for me 12 years ago.

The Good

  • The fable style of writing is engaging without dramatics. Clean & crisp; a fast read. I quite enjoyed it.
  • There's a separate section "The Model" which outlines the five dysfunctions, symptoms thereof, their impact & an outline of potential solutions which are practical. So, if you don't like fables, skip directly to this section.
  • I've used most of the techniques suggested to overcome the dysfunctions & can confirm that they work in practice. A few were new to me & I'll have to see how well they apply.

The Bad

  • The fable style of writing may not appeal to some folks, in which case skip to "The Model" section for the actual meat of the information. To be honest, I liked the fable style.
  • The information within each dysfunction section within "The Model" section could be better structured to clearly & succinctly separate out causes, motivations behind behaviors indicative of causes, mitigation. Though there are separate sub-sections, the information still feels scattered about & repeated (repetition may be due to inter-relatedness, not sure).

The Ugly

  • Nothing.


Disclaimer: These are primarily written for my own future reference, but they may be useful to you, either to decide if you want to read / buy the book or as something to revisit. The information is not comprehensive, not in the least - so, please don't use it as a substitute for actually reading the book. As with all my content, some is verbatim from the original source, opinion may be interspersed & of course, YMMV.

Pyramid of 5 Dysfunctions

five-dysfunctions-pyramid.png Image source

1. Absence of Trust

Trust is the confidence that their peers' intentions are good, & that here is no reason to be protective around the group.


  • Instinctively, people compete with peers, don't want to seem weak by asking for help, are protective of their reputation & minimize / hide mistakes.

Members of Teams with an Absence of Trust

  • Conceal their weakness & mistakes from one another.
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback.
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility.
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions & aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them.
  • Fail to recognize & tap into one another's skills & experience.
  • Waste time & energy managing their behaviors for effect.
  • Hold grudges.
  • Dread meetings & find reasons to avoid spending time together.

Members of Trusting Teams

  • Admit weaknesses & mistakes.
  • Ask for help.
  • Accept questions & input about their areas of responsibility.
  • Give one another the benefit of the doubt before arriving at a negative conclusion.
  • Take risks in offering feedback & assistance.
  • Appreciate & tap into one another's skills & experiences.
  • Focus time & energy on important issues, not politics.
  • Offer & accept apologies w/o hesitation.
  • Look forward to meeting & opportunities to work as a group.

Overcoming Absence of Trust

  • Requires shared experience over time, multiple instances of follow-through (build credibility), & an in-depth understanding of what each team member brings to the table.
  • Personal histories exercise: Low risk, share information about non-sensitive information like number of siblings, hometown, unique challenges of childhood, favorite hobbies, first job & worst job. Encourages greater empath & discourages inaccurate behavioral attributions.
  • Team effectiveness exercise: Team members need to identify sinble most important contribution that each peer makes to the team and one area that must be improved / eliminated for the good of the team.
  • Personality & behavioral preference profiles: e.g. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Everything DiSC - provide practical & scientifically valid behavioral descriptions of team members. Tools require participation of a licensed consultant to avoid misuse.
  • 360-degree feedback: Higher risk since peers needs to make specific judgments & provide constructive criticism. Must be divorced entirely from compensation & formal performance evaluation to avoid political undertones, & fear impact on compensation & on repercussions.
  • Experiential team exercises: Not sure what these are. Need to investigate.
  • Revisit individual developmental areas to ensure momentum is sustained - atrophy can lead to erosion of trust.
  • Leader must demonstrate genuine vulnerability first to encourage building of trust.
  • Leader must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability - no chastisement from anyone for admission of weakness / failure, discourages trust, however subtly.

Connection to Fear of Conflict

Fear of punishment due to misinterpretation of what is said as destructive / critical when engaged in a passionate debate.

2. Fear of Conflict

Healthy long-term relationships require productive conflict, especially in business.


  • Desire to avoid hurt feelings.
  • Misguided thinking that avoiding conflict increases efficiency.

Productive ideological conflict is very different from destructive fighting & interpersonal politics. Ideological conflict is about concepts & ideas, not personality-focused, mean-spirited attacks.

Teams that Fear Conflict

  • Have boring meetings (? don't get this point).
  • Create environments where back-channel politics & personal attacks thrive.
  • Ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success.
  • Fail to tap into all the opinions & perspectives of team members.
  • Waste time & energy with posturing & interpersonal risk management.

Teams that Engage in Conflict

  • Have lively, interesting meetings (? again, don't get this point).
  • Extract & exploit the ideas of all team members.
  • Solve real problems quickly.
  • Minimize politics.
  • Put critical topics on the table for discussion.

Overcoming Fear of Conflict

  • Mining: Members of teams which tend to avoid conflict need to extract buried agreements, call out sensitive issues & force the team to work through them - requires objectivity & commitment to stay with the conflict till resolved.
  • Real-time permission: coach one another not to retreat from healthy debate. Remind people when they become uncomfortable with level of discord that it's necessary - need to be careful not to come across as patronizing.
  • Other tools: Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, commonly know as TKI - Need to investigate, no idea about this tool.
  • Leader should forego the desire to protect members from harm - avoid prematurely interrupting disagreements which prevents team members from developing conflict management skills.
  • Leader should demonstrate restraint & allow resolution to occur naturally - can be messy.
  • Leader should actively take on conflict when necessary & productive.

Connection to Lack of Commitment

How can a team buy into a decision & confidently commit to anything until it has engaged in productive conflict & members' perspectives & opinions have been considered?

3. Lack of Commitment

Commitment = clarity + buy-in


  • Desire for consensus.
  • Need for certainty.

Dysfunctional teams try to hedge bets & delay important decisions till they're certain of correctness. Analysis-paralysis breeds lack of confidence. Primary reason for dangerous ripple effects on subordinates - clashes will occur when employees reporting to different execs are marching to different tunes.

A Team that Fails to Commit

  • Creates ambiguity among the team about direction & priorities.
  • Watches windows of opportunity close due to excessive analysis & unnecessary delay
  • Breeds lack of confidence & fear of failure
  • Revisits discussions & decisions again & again
  • Encourages second-guessing among team members

A Team that Commits

  • Creates clarity around direction & priorities.
  • Aligns the entire team around common objectives.
  • Develops an ability to learn from mistakes.
  • Takes advantage of opportunities before competitors do.
  • Moves forward without hesitation.
  • Changes direction without hesitation or guilt.

Overcoming Lack of Commitment

  • Cascading messaging: Explicitly review key decisions & agree to what to communicate to employees / other constituents.
  • Deadlines: Honor deadlines with discipline & rigidity. Also applies to milestones, since that's how misalignment is identified & addressed before costs become too great.
  • Contingency & worst-case scenario analysis: Reduces fear that costs of incorrect decision are survivable.
  • Low-risk exposure therapy: Teams with dysfunctions tend to overvalue research & analysis. Use low-risk situations to demonstrate success of decisiveness once they have had substantial discussion with sufficient information.
  • Leader makes the decision in case of impasse - a decision is better than no decision. Better to be bold & wrong, & to change direction just as boldly. No waffling!
  • Leader needs to push for closure on issues & must enforce adherence to schedules.

Connection to Avoidance of Accountability

How can someone be held accountable for something that was not made clear in the first place?

4. Avoidance of Accountability

Willingness of team members to call out one another for performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.


  • Members' interpersonal discomfort.
  • Tendency to avoid difficult conversations.

A Team that Avoids Accountability

  • Creates resentment among team members who have different standards of performance.
  • Encourages mediocrity.
  • Misses deadlines & key deliverables.
  • Places an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline.

A Team that Holds One Another Accountable

  • Ensures that poor performers feel pressure to improve.
  • Identifies potential problems quickly by questioning one another's approaches without hesitation.
  • Establishes respect among team members who are held to the same high standards.
  • Avoids excessive bureaucracy around performance management & corrective action.

Overcoming Avoidance of Accountability

  • Publication of goals & standards: No one can ignore agreements kept in the open.
  • Simple & regular progress reviews: Ensures people take action despite inclination not to.
  • Team rewards: Create a culture of accountability by shifting rewards to team achievement instead of individual performance. Members will pitch in when another is not pulling his / her weight.
  • Leader needs to be careful to not be the only source of discipline - this is indicative of members not holding one another accountable.
  • Leader is arbiter of discipline when team fails - this should be the exception, not the rule. Be clear that accountability is a shared team responsibility, not relegated to a consensus approach.

Connection to Inattention to Results

Absence of accountability results in team members focusing on personal advancement instead of collective results.

5. Inattention to Results

Team members care about things other than collective group goals.


  • Lack of specific objectives.
  • Lack of focus on specific objectives.

Results are not just profit, revenue or shareholder returns. Executives' goals (destination, strategy) & objectives (route, tactics) are representative of team results - these ultimately drive profit. Focus shifts to teams status & individual status when focus is not on outcome-based. Also, there is no cure for a lack of desire to win.

A Team that is not Focused on Results

  • Stagnates / fails to grow.
  • Rarely defeats competitor.
  • Loses achievement-oriented employees.
  • Encourages team members to focus on their own careers & individual goals.
  • Is easily distracted.

A Team that Focuses on Collective Results

  • Retains achievement-oriented employees.
  • Minimizes individualistic behavior.
  • Enjoys success & suffers failure acutely (meaning they are not oblivious when failing).
  • Benefits from individuals who subjugate their own goals / interests for the good of the team.
  • Avoids distractions.

Overcoming Inattention to Results

  • Make results clear & only rewards behaviors & actions that contribute to those results.
  • Public declaration of results: Team works with strong desire to achieve published results.
  • Results-based rewards: Tie rewards, especially compensation, to achieving specific outcomes.
  • Leader must set the tone for a focus on results. A fish rots from the head down, so leader must value results.
  • Leader must reward & give recognition only to those who make real contributions to the achievement of group goals.