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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

This book offers subtle take-aways for middle managers, newly appointed executives and teams. It is a fictional story about an organization in Silicon Valley with a “broken at the beginning” leadership team. In comes the new CEO, Kathryn, with no experience in their industry, however possessing an “amazing talent” for building teams. After all, as the book indicates, Jack Welch the Chairman & CEO of General Electric didn’t have to be an expert on toaster manufacturing to make GE a giant success (although we should give him credit for his degree in chemical engineering) and Herb Kelleher didn’t have to spend a lifetime flying airplanes to build Southwest Airlines.

Now some great quotes from the book:

  • “A fractured team is a like a broken arm or leg, fixing it is always painful, and sometimes you have to rebreak it to make it heal correctly. And the rebreak hurts a lot more than the initial break, because you have to do it on purpose” – the “breaking” represents simply challenging the team (or it should).

  • On team meetings:

  • “Everyone needs to do two things, be present and participate. That means everyone needs to be fully engaged in the topic.”

  • A key to strategic alignment:

  • “When I talk about focusing on results instead of individual recognition, I’m talking about everyone adopting a set of common goals and measurements, and then actually using them to make collective decisions on a daily basis.” It’s really important to focus on one common goal… why… because “if everything is important, then nothing is.”

  • I like this one about corporate “politics”:

  • “Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”

  • “If we don’t trust one another, then we aren’t going to engage in open, constructive, ideological conflict. And we’ll just continue to preserve a sense of artificial harmony… Harmony itself is good, I suppose, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict… If we cannot learn to engage in productive, ideological conflict during meetings, we are through.”

  • Team progress should be tracked, measured and reviewed monthly, “because waiting a full quarter to track results won’t give you enough opportunities to detect problems and alter activities sufficiently.”

Just like in the popular business book “Scaling Up” written by Verne Harnish, which we will review on our business book blog soon, there is mention of choosing a team theme that ties to the overall strategy. I do love the idea of choosing a theme, it promotes engagement, focus on the goal and having fun as a team.

One of my biggest grievances as an HR Executive is when one team member, we'll refer to as "the complainant", slams another, we'll refer to as "the respondent", when the respondent isn’t in the room to defend themselves. This is also mentioned in the book. The book encourages the complainant to take their issues to the respondent directly and instructs them to do so immediately. This type of behaviour is even more inappropriate when it involves two members of a leadership team or a manager refering to their direct support negatively.

The book discusses the importance of cross training or cross educating departments. Realistically how will your sales team sell products if they don’t work directly with or at least shadow the engineers creating them. They were “genuinely amazed, both by how much they didn’t know about everything going on in engineering and how it all fit together… have them assist each other with product demonstrations” …. Brilliant.

The book reviews the importance of clear and transparent communication from leaders. It also discusses the importance of hiring team members that demonstrate trust of others, engage in conflict (healthy discussions similar to those you see university students having with one another), commit to group decisions, hold their peers accountable, and focus on the results of the team, not their own ego.

What are the 5 dysfunctions of a team and their suggested outcomes (I almost forgot to be specific with this):

  1. Invulnerability – the outcome being an absence of trust among team members.

  2. Artificial Harmony – the outcome being a fear of (healthy) conflict.

  3. Ambiguity – the outcome is a lack of commitment

  4. Low Standards – the outcome being avoidance of accountability.

  5. Status and Ego – the outcome being inattention to results.

Are these the top five dysfunctions of a team? Well the author suggests so and with the popularity level of this book, there are many others that believe so as well. I think this would be an excellent open discussion to have in your next weekly meeting with your middle managers.

Near the end, the book also specifies the five behaviours of a truly cohesive team bringing it all together:

  1. They trust one another.

  2. They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.

  3. They commit to decisions and plans of actions.

  4. They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.

  5. They focus on the achievement of collective results.

There is an opportunity to complete a team assessment and where weaknesses are revealed, the book also provides suggestions for overcoming those weaknesses.

Below is what I dislike about the book:

This story is built on the basis that Kathryn is a team building genius but in the end rather than taking the time to work with weak contributors, she pulls out the axe. I’ve witnessed some of the best leaders walk into a dysfunctional team only to prove their ability to coach weak team members into greatness. Kathryn saw weakness and removed people immediately or scared them away quickly. That doesn’t demonstrate an amazing talent for "building" teams or strong leadership. That in my perspective anyone can do with the power to do so and the politics behind them. It’s not hard for managers to quickly spot out problem people. That type of reaction is the easy way out. It's also easier to manage people you personally hire into an organization, but to coach an existing team with a few bad eggs into cohesion and greatness, that is the sign of an accomplished and talented leader.

How is a business book based on a fictional story so popular? I honestly have no idea. Business books should be written based on a multitude of case studies, real life research and decades of experience and/or at least actual experience in a multitude of cultural environments. This is not the Celestine Prophecy of business books, it's far from.

Book Review by Alicia Bolton, President OutsourceHR


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