The Five Dysfunctions of a Team :: Executive Agenda

High performing teams, and the desire for them, are common occurrences in corporations. While teams and groups are commonly used as synonyms, they are different from each other. Oxford Dictionary defines a team as a group of people who work together at a particular job while a group is defined as a number of people or things that are together in the same place. As common as teams are, it should come as no surprise that some work better than others. Dysfunction in teams is all around. Behnam Tabrizi found that nearly 75% of cross-functional teams were dysfunctional. In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of A Team, Patrick Lencioni describes the most common dysfunctions in a team. These dysfunctions are as follows:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

Lencioni argues that trust is foundational for teams. Without the basis of trust, dysfunctions will not be able to be resolved. Research from the Harvard Business Review found that people who work in places with high trust levels reported 106% more energy at work, 76% more engagement, 74% less stress, 40% less burnout, 50% higher productivity and 29% more satisfaction with their lives compared to those at a low trust workplace. Low trust workplaces often have to deal with, and navigate, office politics. Resolving the absence of trust dysfunction is crucial to resolving the later dysfunctions. Each dysfunction is based on the resolution of the previous dysfunction and cannot be mastered out of order. For example, if your team shows lack of commitment, it is likely that there is also a fear of conflict from some, if not all of your team members. When a member doesn’t feel as though they can disagree and create conflict with a coworker, they will not be fully committed to the solution proposed because they were never able to weigh in their own opinions. 

So how can you tell which dysfunction your team is stuck at and what can you do to resolve it? Here are some examples for each level: 


Dysfunction #1 – Absence of Trust

Teams with absence of trust may:

  • Not own up to mistakes made
  • Not admit that they can’t do something to hide their weaknesses from other team members
  • Be unwilling to go out of the realm of their job descriptions to help a coworker

What can you do to address it?

  • Have team members be vulnerable and tell the team something about themselves then discuss as a team what you learned. This increases vulnerability between the team and makes it easier to continue to be vulnerable. 
  • Focus on everyone’s strengths. Doing this will help team members gain confidence in themselves and their work. This could inspire coworkers to appreciate the strengths and talents of their peers

Addressing lack of trust can:

  • Lead to quicker reaction to issues, now that mistakes can be admitted more openly
  • Prevent mistakes before they happen if coworkers feel comfortable to ask for assistance on projects

Dysfunction #2 – Fear of Conflict

Teams that fear conflict may:

  • Not listen to understand during a disagreement, rather listen to win the disagreement and argue their point.
  • Not converse with a coworker they disagree with and speak behind their backs.
  • Let leaders dominate a meeting and leave the meeting 
  • Display artificial harmony in which there is no conflict at all

What can you do to address it?

  • Suggest an obviously bad idea and see if anyone in your team argues. If they don’t, there is a blatant fear of conflict.
  • Show your team having opposing views can be productive and helpful
  • Have a “devil’s advocate” portion of the meeting in which an opposing view can be argued.
  • Thank team members for bringing up different points of view that may conflict with the consensus. 

Addressing fear of conflict can:

  • Lead to quicker resolution of issues
  • A lessened about of office politics
  • Allow more diverse views and lead to innovation

Dysfunction #3 – Lack of Commitment

Teams that have a lack of commitment: 

  • Team members don’t commit to an idea because it’s not their idea
  • Have the false impression everyone is on the same page after leaving a meeting.
  • Have members that don’t contribute to the discussion because their ideas differ.

What can you do to address it?

  • Ask members if they have anything to add, any other ideas or (especially) differing opinions on the topic at hand.
  • Encourage team members to ask questions for clarification.
  • Set a team goal and have objectives for everyone to commit to

Addressing lack of commitment can:

  • Help the team understand why a goal is being addressed in a certain way 
  • Feel as though members are committed to an idea after being heard out about their own
  • Show the main goal of the team and what is expected of team members

Dysfunction #4 – Avoidance of Accountability

Teams that have an avoidance of accountability: 

  • Peers who won’t hold each other accountable on performance and behavioral aspects
  • Leave leaders with the sole responsibility of discipline 
  • Are not performing to the best of their ability

What can you do to address it?

  • Start at the leadership level and call members out on their behavioral mistakes and let this trickle down to peer level.
  • Regularly review team members’ individual performance and remind the team of the high standards expected.
  • Have the team come together and share one thing for each member that could be improved to promote accountability between team members.

Addressing avoidance of accountability can:

  • Lead to quicker and higher quality performance from the whole team
  • Urge poor performers to improve performance
  • Take some of the strain off of leaders

Dysfunction #5 – Inattention to Results

Teams that have an Inattention to Results:

  • Don’t focus on the team as a whole when working on projects
  • Attain personal goals more often than team goals. 
  • Fail to develop as a team 

What can you do to address it?

  • Have regular meetings to review key metrics
  • Keep a scoreboard of some type that keeps the team updated on tasks that have been completed.

Addressing inattention to results can:

  • Increase the amount of team goals hit
  • Increase team work and minimize individualism in these settings
  • Increase development as a team

All of these dysfunctions take time and effort to resolve. You have to start at the beginning of the five dysfunctions and work your way through them all to create a truly functional team. If you find that your team is exhibiting dysfunctions of one stage and they can’t seem to be overcome, try taking a step back and looking at the dysfunction level before it. You may find that your team’s problem lies there. Sometimes moving backwards is the only way to avoid an obstacle (or dysfunction) and move forward. Use these tips and ideas to work on creating the trusting, highly functioning team that businesses should aim for and see if the research done by the Harvard Business Review rings true for you.

By: Chloe Williams