Thoughts From Our Heads

Thoughts From Our Heads


Using the Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model to Raise the Performance of your Team

Sunday 17th June 2018

The Five Dysfunctions of a team is a model from teams expert Patrick Lencioni that helps to understand some of the common challenges faced by teams. You might recognise some of these 'dysfunctions' from teams you have worked in or are currently working in. The model works from the bottom up, and progress up the pyramid depends on solving the dysfunction below. So if you think you have a fear of conflict, the real problem is that you are lacking trust. Read on for ideas to solve your team challenges...

The first dysfunction is Absence of Trust. This is at the bottom of the pyramid as it supports everything above it. Without trust, little else can be achieved. An absence of trust in a team shows up as an inability to display vulnerability.
If your team has lack of trust you might spot some of these signs:

  • People hiding their weaknesses rather than asking for help
  • Mistakes not openly discussed
  • Acting in a way that is what you think others expect of you
  • Reluctance to express ideas that go against the status quo
  • Defensive Behaviour
  • Cautious of giving direct feedback to colleagues

What can you do about it?

Trust is essential for a fully functioning team so if you can see the above behaviours in your team, then you need to act.

  • Establish forums for open, informal communication amongst the team, trust requires that people get to know each other as individuals
  • Bring consistency to the team in rules and procedures and in team norms such as when you meet, team rewards and working practices
  • Encourage openness about the job functions within the team, the challenges each person faces and the value they bring to the team
  • Make the team aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses and encourage them to utilise each other's skill sets and help each other where they can

The second team dysfunction is Fear of Conflict, this manifests in teams as artificial harmony. Conflict does not have to be a bad thing, productive conflict brings passionate an unfiltered debate around important issues.

If your team has a fear of conflict you might notice the following:

  • Discussions quickly go to a compromise option
  • One person dominates discussions and everyone else agrees
  • Controversial topics are avoided altogether
  • Little debate encouraged in team decision making
  • The team is very aware of politics and power considerations

What can you do about it?

Teams that lack trust will be unable to engage in a healthy conflict so make sure you have established trust within the team and then try these techniques for encouraging more debate and discussion:

  • Seek equal contribution from all attendees at team meetings and ask quieter people to speak first so they are not influenced by more dominant characters.
  • Ensure you have a diverse set of individuals within your team to avoid 'group think'
  • Try a critical thinking technique like Edward de Bono Six Thinking hats to help the team get used to considering different perspectives
  • Let the team know it is OK to have different opinions, introduce a forum for new ideas and suggestions and ask someone to support and someone to critique each idea

The next dysfunction is Lack of Commitment - this means that the team doesn't fully commit to plans or decisions.
If your team has a lack of commitment here are some of the signs you might notice:

  • Individuals within the team have their own priorities and objectives
  • People don't follow through on what they are supposed to do
  • Progress towards goals is slow
  • Verbal agreement but behind the scenes, there is resistance to plans
  • Ambiguity amongst the team around direction and lack of focus

What can you do about it?

Teams that have a lack of commitment will struggle to achieve their goals. If you spot this within your own team, you first need to ensure that people are able to engage in healthy conflict - if they can't do this then they can't air their opinions and will not commit to the decisions that are made. Once you have this, try these initiatives:

  • Have a team strategy day where you work together to plan the goals and priorities for the year ahead. Explain the why of what you are doing, not just the what
  • Introduce a structure around your team meetings which allows everyone to partake in the decision-making process and clearly assign individual responsibilities with deadlines
  • Facilitate communication of goals across functional teams within the business and highlight team achievements and accomplishments

The next team dysfunction is Avoidance of Accountability, this is the ability of the team members to call their peers on behaviours that can hurt the team. If you have this within your team you might notice:

  • Poor performers are allowed to slip under the net
  • Potential problems are ignored until they are causing major problems
  • The overall quality of work of the team is slipping
  • An overly positive perspective where everything is assumed to be amazing even if the evidence suggests otherwise

What can you do about it?

Avoidance of accountability is a problem as it will result in a slippery slope of poor standards and an over-reliance on the team leader to hold everyone accountable. Accountability in a fully functioning team should come from peers as well as the manager. If you have a lack of commitment accountability is hard because why would you want to hold someone accountable for something that you didn't agree with in the first place?
So if you have an avoidance of accountability, first check the commitment of the team and then try the

  • Implement a 360 feedback survey to start the team on giving feedback on others performance in an anonymous and safe forum
  • Train your staff on how to give proper and effective feedback that is focused on behaviours and not personality
  • Establish standards of behaviour and work that the whole team agrees on and encourage them to identify instances where people fall short of the standards.

The last dysfunction of a team is Inattention to Results. Results refer to the collective goals of the team and in this dysfunction team members prioritise other things such as their individual status, ego, career development or favouritism. If these behaviours look familiar this could be a problem for your team:

  • Individuals promote their own agenda over the team agenda
  • Fighting for individual recognition over team accomplishment
  • Team members are distracted by other priorities

What can you do about it?

If you are suffering from this, first ensure that you have strong accountability in the team. If accountability is lacking, the team will not be able to pull together for the common goals.

  • Publically commit to the results that you want to achieve as a team
  • Provide opportunities for the team to learn and grow together, run project de-briefs, plan for better results next time and engage them in group training exercises
  • Establish results-based rewards where you reward the team for attaining group goals over individual performance
  • Base performance management and promotion opportunities on team performance