The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

By Tracy Tjaden
Book review by Patrick Lencioni

Whether you are running a multimillion-dollar agriculture operation or a small family farm, if you’re working with people you are going to run into problems.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni comes to the rescue.

This easily digestible book published by Wiley Press is a quick read, and its advice immediately applicable.

At first glance, Five Dysfunctions may seem simplistic — but that’s because the problems that tend to unravel work teams are, at their core, shockingly simple. Indeed, the more you complicate matters, the further away you get from actually fixing the problem. Lencioni’s advice isn’t just easy to absorb, it’s easy to implement.

“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

Lencioni’s assertions are hard to argue, easy to implement. He says it’s not cash flow or strategy or down markets that are the undoing of most businesses who falter. “It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

To illustrate his point, Lencioni uses the example of a new CEO who takes the reins of a Silicon Valley darling that has found itself at the brink after two years of dysfunctional leadership.

The new CEO has to unite a team that is in total disarray. Throughout the process, she comes into
direct contact with the five dysfunctions of a team:

•Absence of trust

•Fear of conflict

•Lack of commitment

•Avoidance of accountability

•Lack of attention to results

If left unchecked, all of the above dysfunctions tend to spiral and build upon each other, to create a real mess.

The first problem the book’s CEO tackled was trust, which the author calls “the foundation of real teamwork. And so the first dysfunction is a failure on the part of the team members to understand and open up to one another.”

This absence is its undoing. He goes on to say that great teams don’t hold back with one another. “They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses and their concerns without fear of reprisal.”

This is the first hurdle to overcome, and it is very tied to the other dysfunctions. For example, trust needs to be present if team members are going to be comfortable enough with each other and themselves to enter into conflict — to disagree.

“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.”

Fear of conflict is directly linked to lack of commitment. If team members can’t be authentic and risk conflict, they will never ‘buy in’ to the goal — they won’t commit at a deep level.

“People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t clearly bought in to the same plan,” he says. “Otherwise, it seems pointless because they’re just going to say, ‘I never agreed to that anyways.’”

This, of course, allows team members to avoid accountability — they weren’t on side in the first place, why should they take accountability?

Ultimately, the author says, failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive — inattention to results.

“This happens when team members put their individual needs (ego, career development, recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team,” Lencioni says.

At the end of the day, he tells readers that it all circles back to trust. If it’s not there, this creates fertile soil for all of the other dysfunctions to thrive.

Make sure this isn’t your team. Complex business strategies can lose sight of the simple truth — that trust among team members will create the ideal conditions for spectacular growth on all fronts.
About the Author: Tracy Tjaden

Tjaden is a Canadian journalist who has spent the majority of her career writing and editing for magazines, primarily business-related titles.

She grew up on a farm near Winnipeg, worked at several newspapers in Canada before specializing in magazines, with a focus on business, finance and agriculture.

Tjaden was Editor of BCBusiness Magazine in Vancouver and Managing Editor of a financial magazine in New York City before returning to Winnipeg. She is currently editor of the AgAdvance Journal and agadvance online, and can be reached at
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