Issue 16: In This Issue:

  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
  • Work With Me!

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

By Patrick Lencioni 

Teamwork - so vital and yet so elusive!

Anyone who has spent time and effort trying to build a high performance team knows just how difficult it can be to reach that holy grail. Patrick Lencioni offers up a valuable perspective that shows how organizations unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls.

He calls these pitfalls 'the five dysfunctions of a team'. Althoughthese dysfunctions are often mistakenly interpreted as five distinct issues that can be addressed in isolation of the others, in fact they form an interrelated model in which susceptibility to even one can spell failure for the team.

The Five Dysfunctions

Here are Lencioni's five dysfunctions:

1. Absence of Trust

This dysfunction arises when team members are unwilling to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

2. Fear of Conflict

A failure to build trust sets the stage for the second dysfunction - a fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments. A lack of healthy conflict then results in a failure of team members to commit which is the third dysfunction.

3. Lack of Commitment

Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings. A lack of real commitment and buy-in, then leads the team down the path to the next dysfunction - avoiding accountability.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.

5. Inattention to results

If team members don't hold one another accountable you end up with an environment where team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team.

And so, like a chain with just one link broken, teamwork deteriorates if even a single dysfunction is allowed to flourish.

Behaviours of High Performance Team

Lencioni flips these dysfunctions into their positive opposites to help understand the model and to describe how members of truly cohesive teams behave:

  1. They trust one another.
  2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
  3. They commit to decisions and plans of action.
  4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.
  5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.

He points out that, although this sounds simple and is simple in theory, it is extremely difficult in practice because it requires levels of discipline and persistence that few teams can muster.

A Teaching Fable

Lencioni starts the book off with a fable called 'Under-Achievement at DecisionTech Inc.'. The purpose of this fable is to set the stage for the subsequent discussion of his model and describes the behaviour of a typical poorly performing team. In this fable, a new leader is brought it to reverse a deteriorating situation at the Decision Tech. The leader utilizes Lencioni's model to turn around the team performance and the fable clearly illustrates the difficulty of putting this simple model into practice.

Assessing the Team's Current Status

Before launching into the details of each of the dysfunctions and describing what you can do to prevent them, Lencioni provides a questionnaire you can use to assess your team's current status. It is a straightforward diagnostic tool for helping you evaluate your team's susceptibility to the five dysfunctions and is based on Yes/No probes such as:

  1. Team members know what their peers are working on and how they contribute to the collective good of the team.
  2. Team members willingly make sacrifices (such as budget, turf, head count) in their departments of areas of expertise for the good of the team.
  3. Morale is significantly affected by the failure to achieve team goals.
  4. Team members end discussions with clear and specific resolutions and calls to action
  5. Team members are slow to seek credit for their own contributions, but quick to point out those of others.

The remainder of the book is spent discussing how to understand and overcome each dysfunction and provides valuable advice on the critical role of the team leader in dealing with each one. Here's a brief overview of the first two dysfunctions.

Understanding Absence of Trust

As Lencioni points out, trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. Without it, teamwork is all but impossible.

In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peer's intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. In essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

Lencioni advises that as "soft" as all of this might sound, it is only when team members are truly comfortable being exposed to one another that they begin to act without concern for protecting themselves. As a result, they can focus their energy and attention completely on the job at hand, rather than on being strategically disingenuous or political with one another.

Achieving vulnerability-based trust is difficult because in the course of career advancement and education, most successful people learn to be competitive with their peers, and protective of their reputations. It is a challenge for them to turn those instincts off for the good of a team, but that is exactly what is required.

The costs of failing to do this are great. Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy managing their behaviors and interactions within the group. They tend to dread team meetings, and are reluctant to take risks in asking for or offering assistance to others. As a result, morale on distrusting teams is usually quite low, and unwanted turnover is high.

Overcoming Absence of Trust

Lencioni provides a number of suggestions on how to build trust within a team that range from the quick first-step Personal Histories Exercise moving through to the more risky and rigorous Team Effectiveness Exercise and perhaps even going as far as an Experiential Team Exercise.

However, Lencioni rightly points our that some of the most effective and lasting tools for building trust on a team are profiles of team members' behavioral preferences and personality styles. Misunderstanding can lead to miscommunication and subsequently mistrust. Effective use of these profiles helps break down barriers by allowing people to better understand and empathize with one another. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the best profiling tool in the author's opinion (with which many leading corporations world wide would agree).

Lencioni also believes that a 360-Degree Feedback program can be effective as long as it is divorced entirely from compensation and formal performance evaluation. Rather, it should be used as a developmental tool, one that allows employees to identify strengths and weaknesses without any repercussions.

Absence of Trust : Role of the Leader

The author cautions that the most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. This requires that a leader risk losing face in front of the team, so subordinates will take the same risks themselves. What is more, team leaders must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability.

Understanding Fear of Conflict - Dysfunction 2

Lencioni states that all great relationships, whether in marriage, parenthood, friendship, or business, require productive conflict in order to grow.

Unfortunately, conflict is considered taboo in many situations, especially at work. And the higher you go up the management chain, the more you find people spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to avoid the kind of passionate debates that are essential to any great team.

Productive not Destructive Conflict

He emphasizes that it is important to distinguish productive idealogical conflict from destructive fighting and interpersonal politics. Idealogical conflict is limited to concepts and ideas, and avoids personality-focused, mean-spirited attacks. However, it can have many of the same external qualities of interpersonal conflict-passion, emotion, frustration-so much so that an outside observer might easily mistake it for unproductive discord.

But teams that engage in productive conflict know that the only purpose is to produce the best possible solution in the shortest period of time. They discuss and resolve issues more quickly and completely than others, and they emerge from heated debates with no residual feelings or collateral damage, but with an eagerness and readiness to take on the next important issue.

Overcoming Fear of Conflict

One recommendation for overcoming this dysfunction is for one or more members of a team to occasionally assume the role of a "miner of conflict"-someone who extracts buried disagreements within the team and sheds the light of day on them. They must have the courage and confidence to call out sensitive issues and force team members to work through them. This requires a degree of objectivity during meetings and a commitment to staying with the conflict until it is resolved. Some teams may want to assign a member of the team to take on this responsibility during a given meeting or discussion.

Other recommendations are a process the author calls Real-Time Permission and a variety of personality style and behavioral preference tools, including the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Code Instrument, that allow team members to better understand one another.

Fear of Conflict : Role of the Leader

As Lencioni describes it, the primary role of the leader is in 'not avoiding conflict' which manifests itself in two different ways. The first manifestation and one of the most difficult challenges that a leader faces in promoting healthy conflict is the desire to protect members from harm. This leads to premature interruption of disagreements, and prevents team members from developing coping skills for dealing with conflict themselves.

And secondly, a leader's ability to personally model appropriate conflict behavior is essential. When conflict is necessary and productive, by avoiding it - something many executives do - a team leader will encourage this dysfunction to thrive.

Five Star Ratings & A Field Guide

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team has consistently received four and five star reviews and justifiably so. And Lencioni has now penned a field guide which provides more specific, practical guidance for overcoming the Five Dysfunctions-using tools, exercises, assessments, and real-world examples. If you are trying to develop a high performance team (and these days who isn't), pick up one or both of these resources and put them to work.

To purchase 'The Five Dysfunctions of a Team' click this link to get it from: 

Work with Me!

by Gini Graham Scott

Conflict … whether it is dragging down a one-on-one relationship (see "The Five Dysfunctions of Teams" elsewhere in this newsletter) or affecting a team's performance, management of it is a critical skill for leaders today.

However, it is not a skill that comes easily as very many will attest.

In 'Work With Me', Gini Graham Scott describes a proven and powerful Emotion, Reason, Intuition (ERI) model for resolving workplace conflicts and in one chapter of this solid reference work, Scott discusses how to choose an appropriate style for handling a conflict situation. Like Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the tool she recommends is the Thomas and Kilmann Conflict Code Instrument and here's how she describes it.

Thomas and Kilmann Model

In Thomas and Kilmann's model, five conflict styles reflect ways of reacting to a conflict or a difficult situation along one of two axes. One axis reflects the degree to which you address your own concerns (by acting either assertively or unassertively), and the other axis the degree to which you address others' concerns (by acting either cooperatively or uncooperatively). When these two axes are combined, they form a grid of four cells with one central cell, yielding five different conflict styles: Competing, Collaborating, Avoiding, Accommodating, and Compromising. These styles are shown in the figure below.

Five Conflict Styles

You can use this figure to identify your own or anyone else's style of handling conflict. As the figure shows, if your approach tends to be both assertive and uncooperative, then you are more likely to use the Competing style. If your approach tends to be both assertive and cooperative, then you are more likely to use the Collaborating style.

If your approach tends to be both unassertive and uncooperative, then you are more likely to use the Avoiding style. If your approach tends to be both unassertive and cooperative, then you are more likely to use the Accommodating style.

And if your approach is somewhere in between being assertive and being unassertive, and in between being cooperative and being uncooperative, then you are more likely to use the Compromising style.

The style you identify may be the one that you normally use, or it may be the one you use in particular circumstances, or with certain people. For example, if you have a low-status position in a large organization, you may be more apt to respond with the Competing style if you have a dispute with someone at the same level as yours; in a dispute with your boss, however, where you have less power, you may be more likely to respond with the Accommodating style, even if you feel that you are right.


The Competing style of handling conflict involves being forceful and confrontational in seeking to get what you want, irrespective of how others feel. It also includes being manipulative, persuasive, argumentative, and combative in getting people to go along with your point of view. Sometimes, if you have the benefit of a higher position, it can include pulling rank and using your power to win your objective.


The Collaborating style of handling conflict takes longer than the other styles, since it involves a real commitment to discussing and trying to understand the issues. It includes openly airing and addressing everyone's concerns and listening to everyone's goals, opinions, and needs. It also requires some skills in expression and articulation, and so it isn't the easiest style to master. But if you and others have the time, and if the issue is an important or complex one to which this style is suited, the Collaborating style can lead to a win-win solution.


In many ways, the Avoiding style of handling conflict is the opposite of the Competing style. Instead of responding with force and power, you retreat and withdraw. You don't assert yourself, and you don't cooperate or engage in any way.

Some may consider use of the Avoiding style to be a form of running away or evading the issue, but there are times when that is the best thing to do-by withdrawing, retreating, delaying, or using other forms of disengagement.


The Accommodating style of handling conflict is the approach of going along with others and doing what they want. Whatever your reason for using this style, you put your own concerns and interests on the back burner.

Sometime deferring to the interests of others is the ideal approach, as when doing so will win you their support in the future; thus an accommodation in one situation becomes a gain in another. Using the accommodation style can also be effective if you are in a low-status position, since being helpful and cooperative and being a good team player are qualities that can serve you in getting ahead.


The Compromising style of handling conflict is the middle way. You give up a little of what you want, others give up a little of what they want, and you all end up with some of what you each want. Sometimes you split the difference; sometimes you make exchanges and concessions in the course of bargaining, to come up with a mutually acceptable solution.

Managing Conflict in Teams

In 'The Five Dysfunctions of Teams', Patrick Lencioni (see the second article in this newsletter.) discusses how important it is to manage positive and negative conflict in order to have a high performance team. You want productive idealogical conflict fuelling passionate debates on concepts and ideas. You don't want conflict arising from destructive fighting and interpersonal politics.

A quick look at the Thomas and Kilmann model readily demonstrates how important it is to understand the styles of team members. A team of several members with a strong competing style can lead to a dynamic conflict-filled team that could be quite positive if the focus is kept at the idealogical level but could also spell disaster if the focus became personal.

One or two individuals with a strong competing style in a team with others who preferred an avoiding or accommodating style could end up with stifled creativity and muffled voices. And yet a whole team of avoiding and or accommodating styles could fuel one of the key performance-killing dysfunctions of a team as described by Lencioni - 'fear of conlfict'.

A Good Reference Resource

If you need some guidance in managing conflict in your teams or in your one-on-one relationships, Work With Me is worth the investment - in dollars to buy the book and in time to put the principles into practice.

To purchase 'Work with Me' click this link to get it from: