A Leadership Fable
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Patrick Lencioni’s Perspective
Patrick Lencioni is an American writer of books on business management, particularly about team management. He is the founder and president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm specializing in executive team development and organizational health. As a consultant and keynote speaker, he has worked with thousands of senior executives and their teams. Patrick has supported organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies and high-tech startups to universities and nonprofits. Lencioni is the author of 11 best-selling books, including The Advantage and The Ideal Team Player.
Free Audiobook Summary
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a fable-based story of Kathryn Petersen, the new CEO of DecisionTech. She joins a company that has a more experienced and talented executive team than any of its competitors. They have more cash, better technology, and a more powerful Board of Directors. That said, they are behind their competitors in terms of both revenue and customer growth. After meeting with the Board, Executive Team, and staff, she identifies the team’s dysfunctions.
StoryShot #1: Trust Is the Foundation of Success
The absence of trust is the most significant barrier to team success. Trust and loyalty are an integral part of any team. Just imagine how violent gangs require their new members to kill to establish trust and loyalty. In more professional environments, trust allows team members to feel comfortable in accepting their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. So, without trust, it is unlikely that team members will bring innovative ideas or challenge authority. Both of these are required for considerable improvement to occur. A team without trust is merely a group of people who feel they need to be right and aren’t willing to take any risks.
Trust is also crucial for effective teamwork. Trust allows team members to communicate healthily and openly. They are then better equipped to solve complex problems far quicker. Instead of beating around the bush, the team gets straight to the issue at hand. Without trust, these issues will be left undiscussed and decisions will only include a select few’s opinions.
In this book, Lencioni uses the departure of DecisionTech’s head of sales as an example of how trust can encourage open communication. Carlos Amador, the head of customer support, suggested he took the position. But, the rest of the team felt that other team members had more experience and were more suitable for the role. As the team had a foundation of trust, they all felt comfortable voicing their opinion to Carlos and the rest of the team. Carlos was not offended because he respected his team members’ opinions. So, the team made the correct decision of hiring the chief operations officer for the post. Without trust, the team would not have challenged Carlos’ suggestion, and they arguably would have been less efficient.
StoryShot #2: Avoid Deliberately Fostering Mistrust
Some businesses actively allow their executive team members to have a culture of mistrust. These companies mistakenly assume they can produce better results by introducing this culture. A large newspaper chain introduced this approach by pitting prominent team members against each other. In general, a newspaper chain will arrange three executive team members to announce an early promotion and the three invitees are precursors to the work. The CEO believed that encouraging these managers to compete would produce the organization’s best results as each manager would work hard to prove themselves. By doing this, the CEO emphasizes the performance of the three divisions rather than the whole business. Such a scenario normally begins with a bitter competition between the three bosses. The bosses won’t cooperate so that they can push others out of control. And while the divisions of these executives may display excellent results, the whole organization’s results could be compromised.
StoryShot #3: How You Can Build Trust
Trust is built upon vulnerability. The modern business world is hyper-focused on competitiveness and protecting your own interests. Lencioni explains that you have to challenge some of these views to build a team that incorporates trust. For example, team members should always own up when they have made a mistake. Doing this will normalize talking about mistakes and learning from them. This will be better for individual team members and the team as a whole.
Lencioni recommends specific trust-building exercises. For example, simply sitting in a circle and telling each other about their childhoods and where they grew up. This base-level knowledge of other employees is enough to leave employees more at ease. Building on this, he also suggests you get your team to take turns openly acknowledging a weakness they possess that could limit the team’s potential. But, this weakness should be followed by a strength they possess that could push the team towards success. When you and your teammates are transparent about your faults, you take down the veil of perfection and allow open and honest feedback to find its way into team discussions. This leads to another point made by Lencioni, which is that everyone’s performance should be transparent.
StoryShot #4: Peer-to-Peer Accountability Requires Transparent Performance
Accepting mistakes relies on your team becoming transparent regarding performance. Transparency reduces the awkwardness associated with pointing out that a team member is under-performing. Without transparency, this claim is not backed by evidence. With transparency, all will see that they need to improve. Being able to identify who is under-performing will allow your team to be more effective in meeting deadlines, improving results, and increasing efficiency.
Transparency also encourages peer-to-peer accountability. This is crucial, as it prevents the team leader from being burdened as the sole source of discipline. Teams often avoid accountability as they worry it will ruin personal relationships. Lencioni explains that a lack of accountability leads to resentment of under-performers and disciplinarians. So, the relationships are less healthy when a team is lacking accountability. Accountable teams can improve their relationships because they develop respect when others adhere to the same high standards. Finally, accountability allows team members to see personal improvements as critical in working toward a common good rather than a personal attack.
StoryShot #5: Fear of Conflict
Conflict avoidance is one of the most frequent dysfunctions within business teams. Team members avoid conflict, and other team members aim to stop conflicts when they arise. Lencioni outlines that debates can be extremely effective if the team is based on trust. Your team is more likely to reach the optimal decision if people disagree. Having a team consisting of people telling you what you want to hear will not be as effective as possible. A mixture of opinions and experiences is crucial for making good decisions. Lencioni describes conflict as the heart of innovation and progress. Nobody identified innovative ideas by agreeing with the status quo.
Some examples of constructive conflict within the workplace would be debating company behaviors, processes, services and products. You should always avoid conflicts that are based on personal attacks. At their heart, these conflicts are not productive and will not improve your team’s likelihood of success. So, try to encourage healthy conflict in meetings by creating a team management charter. This charter can promote candid and passionate debate. Then, have every team member sign this charter and bring it to every meeting. Conflict will actually make team members enjoy meetings more. Conflict is interesting and this is why Lencioni compares meetings to the entertainment of watching a movie.
Again, trust is the foundation of overcoming the dysfunctions observed in teams. Trust is crucial for identifying the best possible solutions to any challenges. It also enables conflict because team members who trust each other will be comfortable even when engaging in a passionate and emotional debate over a tricky issue.
We rate The Five Dysfunctions of a Team summary 4.1/5.
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This article was first published in Januuary 2021 and updated in February 2022.
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