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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team focuses on how team dynamics can make or break a company. Written as a leadership fable, this story follows a leader and his team as they struggle with the dysfunctional behaviors that will probably be familiar to most professionals. The company has great people with talent but just can't compete because morale is low and the team members just can't agree on common goals.

The team is unable to make important decisions, and the company is losing the battle for market share. By identifying the five dysfunctions that are disabling the team, the leader eventually eliminates the issues holding everyone back and turns a dysfunctional group into an effective, committed team.


Absence of trust

Trust among a team means all the members can show their weaknesses and be vulnerable without fear that they will be judged or ridiculed. Without this trust, it's hard for team members to be open to new ideas and makes it challenging to present their own ideas. Teams without trust are just a groups of people who feel the need to be right and to play it safe.

"Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability."

Trust requires that team members have faith in each other's intentions and confidence that their vulnerabilities won't be used against them. The way to overcome this distrust is for the leader to encourage shared experiences, open dialogue, and an atmosphere of integrity. The leader must lead by example and allow themselves to be vulnerable first to create a safe environment. With clear expectations and accountability, it is possible for a leader to change the unwanted behaviors.

Fear of conflict

Trust leads to the ability to use conflict productively. Without this foundation of trust, conflict becomes just another hurdle instead of a healthy way to interact and create. As long as a team fears conflict, it will be difficult to break new ground, gain overall consensus for decisions, and lead to people avoiding any conflict.

"I don't think anyone ever gets completely used to conflict. If it's not a little uncomfortable, then it's not real. The key is to keep doing it anyway."

Leaders must encourage debate and teach people that conflict can be a positive thing. Once a team begins to see that conflict is not something to fear, they will become a healthier, more productive team. Because they have support from their leader and other team members to go beyond their comfort zone, creative conflict will be accepted as a normal part of the team's process.

Lack of commitment

When teams use productive conflict, it makes it easier for them to commit and buy-in to decisions. Without debate, there is no commitment. People just won't buy into something if they feel that their opinions and thoughts weren't discussed. A lack of commitment will make it impossible to achieve a consensus among a team, leading to disinterest, resentment, and stagnation.

"Commitment is a function of two things: clarity and buy-in."

Leaders can help develop this commitment by encouraging each team member to contribute to every discussion. The leader must promote this open exchange over and over again until it becomes accepted. Once the atmosphere is one of the individuals agreeing to disagree, real progress is not far behind. By reviewing team decisions after every meeting and defining roles and deadlines, the leader can keep the focus on on-going commitment.

Avoidance of accountability

Without team commitment, team members will always avoid accountability. Team members who commit to an idea or decision do it because they feel that their input matters and they expect to be held accountable. If their input seems unimportant, they feel that they aren't responsible for results. This lack of accountability in the individual will always weaken the accountability of the team.

"People aren't going to hold each other accountable if they haven't clearly bought into the same plan."

The only way to hold each other, and the team, accountable is by measuring progress. The leader must set the foundation by clearly defining standards, expectations, specific tasks, and deadlines. It's up to the leader to make sure every team member understands what is being measured and how important their contribution will be.

Inattention to results

It there's no accountability, then there is no focus on results. Team members who don't feel accountable will always put their interests ahead of the team's. Until the desired results are agreed upon by the whole team, nothing worthy will ever happen. With accountability in place, the focus on team results happens naturally and creates a tighter bond among team members. The leader makes sure the desired results are clear and that final results are shared and rewarded in a team setting.

"Our job is to make the results that we need to achieve so clear to everyone in this room that no one would even consider doing something purely to enhance his or her individual status or ego. Because that would diminish our ability to achieve our collective goals. We would all lose."