Book review - The Five Dysfunctions of Teams, by Patrick Lencioni

If you have ever been in a team, on a committee or board, or part of a working group, the chances are there have been moments when the whole has ended up being a great deal less than the sum of the parts. Even if formed with the best intentions, and made up of people of goodwill, teams can sometimes - often?, always? - derail. Patrick Lencioni, president of The Table Group, a San Francisco-based consulting firm, tells the story of a fictional firm, DecisionTech, Inc, with a new CEO trying to build a team out of the board she has taken over. Unlike most management books with vignettes from "real life" inserted to illustrate a point, this book works the other way around.  It's written entirely as a novel - and actually quite a compelling one - with points drawn out from it.

In short, Lencioni identifies the five dysfunctions of a team:

Absence of Trust.  In the absence of trust, members conceal weakness, and don't ask for constructive feedback, they don't offer help outside their own area, and read the worst interpretation into anyone else's motives. They waste time and hold grudges. They dread meetings and avoid spending time together.  If, because members are nervous of repercussions or of being disrespected or disdained, they are not open with one another and that will lead to...

Fear of Conflict. In the absence of mutual trust, there can be no genuine debate, no "unfiltered" discussion. Instead, comments will be guarded and meetings will be be boring, as no serious topics will be debated. Rather, back channels will be the only place where real thoughts and feelings will come out, and personal attacks will thrive. This avoidance of conflict in the team will lead to...

Lack of Commitment. Despite pretending to agree, or simply not voicing objections, members won't actually commit to the team's objectives or decision.  Decisions will take forever to finalise, and discussions will go on and on. Because of the lack of trust and fear of conflict, no one will feel that they "own" the outcome, and this will lead to...

Avoidance of Accountability. As no member really feels ownership for the team's performance, and given the lack of trust and fear of conflict, no one member will take the risk of holding another to account for actions or attitudes that derail the team's stated objectives. Members will silently resent one another for failing to keep their part of the bargain, or for letting down the team. Deadlines will be missed, and deliverables delayed. Only the team leader provides any discipline. This will lead to...

Inattention to Results. Members won't let the team's needs trump their own department / career / personal needs. They will put their own priorities ahead of the team's and not pay attention to the outcomes the team is aiming for - rather, they will only care about defending or advancing themselves, or getting the most out of the team for their own function, department or silo. The team won't drive the business, it will allow stagnation. Eventually the energetic will leave, and the team will atrophy.

Any of that feel familiar?

Lencioni goes on to suggest how the five dysfunction can be overcome. None of the proposals are easy, and will often involve some painful revelations and self-examination, but the outcomes are heartily to be sought. Imagine a team where members trust each other, are happy to debate and discuss any issue, commit to decisions and plans,  hold one another accountable for delivering the team's objectives, and feel one another's failures deeply or - hopefully - celebrate their collective success. It can be done.