The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:
A Leadership Fable

Reviewed by: 
Patrick Lencioni
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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Someone once told me that most management books are two chapters long, with the rest of the chapters consisting of padding, to turn what would otherwise be an article, into something that can justify the price of a book.  Regardless of whether you believe this to be an overly cynical view or not, this book fits the definition, yet it is one that I recommend highly to anyone wanting to learn more about the effective working of teams.

The reason it fits this otherwise critical definition is because it uses the “padding” chapters to put the theory into context, by telling a fictional story of how a newly appointed chief executive sets about improving the performance of the management team of a failing company.  The net result is an eminently readable and extremely well explained management book.

The story begins with the new CEO taking time to get to know the team before taking them through a series of steps to get them to see the problems.  The benefit of the way the story is told is that the model Lencioni is describing is related to the reader in a context that will seem familiar.

The one ‘eurica’ moment in the story for me was when a member of the team tried to undermine the new CEO by appealing to the Chairman.  A similar situation had occurred to me in the past that I had ignored.  What the book helped me understand was why it had happened and how I might have dealt with it better.

At the end of the book there are around 35 pages that describe Lencioni’s model, provide a self-assessment test and offer suggestions as to how to overcome the five dysfunctions.  It is probably not giving too much away to summarise the model here:

  • The first dysfunction is absence of trust amongst team members.  If team members are not genuinely open with each other about their mistakes and weaknesses, it is impossible to build a foundation of trust.
  • Absence of trust creates the circumstance for the second dysfunction, fear of conflict.  Teams that lack trust are incapable of fully and honestly debating issues as they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.
  • The inability to openly discuss issues leads to a lack of commitment.  If team members are unable to fully air their views, it is unlikely that they will be fully committed to the decisions of the group.
  • If team members are not fully bought into the decisions of the group, they will inevitably avoid accountability.  How can they stand up and be counted on issues if they were not completely committed to them in the first place?
  • Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive.  Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career, recognition or reward) or even their division above the collective needs of the team.

The clear message is that trust is the cornerstone of all teams.  It may sound obvious, but how many corporate structures, particularly with regard to reward and recognition, reward trust and cooperation rather than competition?

The book is well worth reading for anyone who leads a team.

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