Change Focus: Team Development 

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team are a framework that outlines common obstacles that can hinder the success of a team.
Five Dysfunctions of a Team Mutomorro 1
Download a free Five Dysfunctions of a Team Template

What are Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team?

In the world of business and team management, Patrick Lencioni‘s Five Dysfunctions of a Team has become a well-known framework for identifying and addressing the common dysfunctions that can hinder a team’s success. By understanding these dysfunctions, leaders can work to build stronger, more effective teams. In this article, we’ll explore Lencioni’s background, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and how to use this model to create healthy discussions within your team.

Background to Patrick Lencioni and his research

Patrick Lencioni is a renowned author and consultant, specialising in organisations and teams. He has written several best-selling books on leadership and teamwork, including “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” which has sold over two million copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Lencioni’s work is based on extensive research and his years of experience as a consultant, working with hundreds of organisations to help them improve their teams’ performance.

Lencioni’s approach to team development is grounded in the belief that teams can only succeed if they overcome five common dysfunctions. These dysfunctions are often interrelated and can build on one another, creating a downward spiral that can ultimately lead to a team’s failure. By identifying and addressing these dysfunctions, leaders can help their teams become more cohesive, effective, and successful.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The model below shows the 5 areas of function/dysfunction and some characteristics which are likely to present in teams. The characteristics aren’t exhaustive and each team will present symptoms of disfunction in slightly different ways.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

1. Absence of trust

Five Dysfunctions of a Team - 1. Absence of Trust

The first dysfunction of a team is the absence of trust. Trust is the foundation of any successful team, as it allows team members to be open and honest with one another, share their thoughts and ideas, and take risks without fear of being judged or ridiculed. When trust is lacking, team members may be reluctant to admit mistakes or ask for help, leading to a lack of collaboration and ineffective problem-solving.

An example of this dysfunction might be a team where members are hesitant to share their opinions or concerns, fearing that they will be criticised or dismissed. Significant issues can arise in teams that lack trust which often has wider, organisational impact.

To address this issue, leaders can encourage open communication and vulnerability, creating an environment where team members feel safe to express themselves. This can be achieved through team-building activities, regular check-ins, or by modelling vulnerability as a leader.

Signs of a high-performing team

  • Ask each other for help
  • Share weaknesses (high level of psychological safety)
  • Believe in each other (strong bonds and respect)

Signs of a dysfunctional team

  • Hide mistakes or gloss over them
  • Blame culture (overt or covert)
  • Infighting and tribalism

2. Fear of conflict

Five Dysfunctions of a Team - 2. Fear of conflict

The second dysfunction is fear of conflict. While conflict can be uncomfortable, healthy debate and disagreement are essential for a team to grow and improve. When team members avoid conflict, they may also avoid discussing important issues or challenging one another’s ideas, leading to a lack of innovation and stagnation.

An example of this dysfunction might be a team that always agrees with the leader’s decisions, without questioning or offering alternative solutions. Fear of conflict is heavily linked to psychological safety and a team’s ability to challenge effectively.

To overcome this dysfunction, leaders can foster a culture of constructive conflict by encouraging team members to voice their opinions, even if they disagree with others. Establishing ground rules for respectful disagreement and ensuring all ideas are given equal consideration can also help create a more open and collaborative environment.

Signs of a high-performing team

  • Healthy team debate – respectful, open and constructive debate
  • Co-design solutions (high level of positive collaboration)
  • Challenge poor behaviour – happy highlighting and accepting feedback

Signs of a dysfunctional team

  • Avoid people (or deal with conflict indirectly via others)
  • Avoid problems – won’t face difficult situations or confront challenges directly
  • Poor behaviour tolerated – poor performance, infighting, us vs them

3. Lack of commitment

Five Dysfunctions of a Team - 3. Lack of commitment

The third dysfunction is a lack of commitment. When team members are not fully committed to the team’s goals and decisions, they may be less likely to follow through on their responsibilities, leading to missed deadlines and subpar performance. This lack of commitment can stem from a lack of clarity or buy-in around the team’s objectives.

An example of this dysfunction could be a team member who consistently misses deadlines or fails to complete tasks, without any clear explanation or reason. A person’s commitment to a team will depend on their relationship, investment and treatment within that team. Leaders who don’t inspire, engage, listen to and reward their teams will often find commitment lacking.

To address this issue, leaders can ensure that team goals are clearly communicated and understood, and that each team member’s role in achieving those goals is well-defined. Additionally, involving team members in the decision-making process can help create a sense of ownership and commitment to the team’s success.

Signs of a high-performing team

  • Buy in from whole team – we all know where we’re going
  • Full engagement
  • Clear objectives & priorities – we all know what we need to do

Signs of a dysfunctional team

  • Objectives missed and changing priorities (task quicksand)
  • Lack of ownership or unclear lines of responsibility
  • Poor behaviour tolerated, brushed over or excused (“that’s just who they are”)

4. Avoidance of team accountability

Five Dysfunctions of a Team - 4. Avoidance of Team Accountability

The fourth dysfunction is avoidance of team accountability. When team members do not hold one another accountable for their actions and performance, poor behaviour can become normalised, ultimately impacting the team’s overall effectiveness. This dysfunction can be particularly challenging to address, as it often requires confronting teammates and having difficult conversations.

An example of this dysfunction might be a team that consistently underperforms but does not address the issue or hold individual members accountable for their contributions. Accountability is heavily link to trust and commitment, and the causes are often similar.

To overcome this dysfunction, leaders can establish clear expectations for performance and behaviour, and create a culture of accountability by regularly reviewing progress and addressing any issues or concerns as they arise.

Signs of a high-performing team

  • Poor performance managed
  • Clear, upheld standards – this is what we expect from each other
  • Goals and activities clear – we know exactly where we’re heading

Signs of a dysfunctional team

  • No consistent performance management
  • Favouritism and preferential treatment
  • Poor performance tolerated based on “rank” or allegiances

5. Inattention to team objectives

Five Dysfunctions of a Team - 5. Inattention to Team Objectives

The final dysfunction is inattention to team objectives. When team members prioritise their personal goals or departmental concerns over the team’s overall objectives, the team’s success can suffer. This can lead to a lack of alignment and focus, making it difficult for the team to achieve its goals.

An example of this dysfunction could be a team member who is more focused on securing a promotion than on contributing to the team’s success. Fostering the wrong sort of competition, eroding trust, poor reward structures and creating a toxic environment are all triggers for inattention to team objectives.

To address this issue, leaders can regularly communicate the team’s objectives and ensure that team members understand how their individual roles contribute to the achievement of those goals. Additionally, leaders can reinforce the importance of teamwork by recognising and rewarding team accomplishments, rather than just individual achievements.

Signs of a high-performing team

  • Highly motivated – we encourage and support each other
  • Consistently hits goals – we hit our goals in a managed and considered way
  • Focus on team results – we hit results together

Signs of a dysfunctional team

  • Focus on self over team – individualist approach
  • Poor, collective team performance
  • High team turnover – burnout, exhaustion or frustration

Exploring Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team with your team

To use Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team with your team, start by assessing your team’s current state in relation to each area. This can be done through team surveys, one-on-one conversations, or group discussions. Once you have identified any areas of concern, work together as a team to develop strategies for overcoming these dysfunctions.

Encourage open communication and healthy discussions among team members by creating an environment of trust and respect. This can be achieved by modelling vulnerability as a leader, and providing opportunities for team members to share their thoughts and concerns without fear of judgment or ridicule. Additionally, establish ground rules for constructive conflict, ensuring that disagreements are focused on ideas and solutions rather than personal attacks.

Regularly review your team’s progress in addressing these dysfunctions and make any necessary adjustments along the way. Remember that overcoming these dysfunctions is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort and commitment from all team members.

Summary

Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team provides a valuable framework for identifying and addressing the common challenges that can hinder a team’s success. By understanding these dysfunctions and working together to overcome them, teams can become more cohesive, effective, and successful. By fostering open communication, creating a culture of accountability, and maintaining a focus on the team’s objectives, leaders can help their teams achieve greater levels of success and satisfaction.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team Template

Use this template as a starting point for exploring the Five Dysfunctions of a Team Model.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

 85a1d39dd15fcf4fbff9d58e15aeea02?s=96&d=mm&r=g 

 James Freeman-Gray 

I'm James. A change consultant and organisational development specialist. I've been working in people-centred change for over 15 years. I partner with causes, champions, teams & leaders on projects for social, environmental, technological & human good. If you think I can support in making your change a success, drop me a message. 

Other Change Models

McKinsey 7-S Model Framework

McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S Model is a management framework developed by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman while working for McKinsey & Company.
Belbin's Team Roles

Belbin’s Team Roles

Belbin’s Team Roles are a set of nine roles that individuals can adopt within a team to contribute to its success. Each role has its own characteristics and strengths.
Scroll to Top