Patrick Lencioni deftly defines politics in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
He describes it as “when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”
I’ve never heard politics described so aptly.
Lencioni’s book has gems for those looking to understand how a healthy team in the workplace should function.
This book is a page turner. I finished it in three sittings in part because Lencioni describes the five main dysfunctions through rich storytelling.
He teaches readers lessons using a fable based on a company struggling to get its leadership team to successfully function.
Lencioni illustrates the five dysfunctions using a pyramid graphic.
He starts at the bottom of the pyramid, which is where you’ll find the first dysfunction: absence of trust. Everything else is built up from there: fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.
Absence Of Trust
Absence of trust entails a lack of vulnerability; not being able to admit your mistakes or weaknesses to team members out of a fear of judgement. Lencioni writes absence of trust creates a culture of invulnerability. And because this sits at the bottom of the pyramid, you can imagine it’ll lead to the other four dysfunctions, too.
Lencioni notes that one of the best ways to alleviate this dysfunction is to start at the top, that is, get the C-suite team to become vulnerable in an effort to get other team members to do the same.
Fear Of Conflict
A lack of trust leads to the next dysfunction: fear of conflict. And it makes sense. How do you expect passionate debate over ideas when you can’t trust your team members. Instead, team members end up hiding their thoughts. This creates a culture of artificial harmony.
Lencioni recommends that team leaders should showcase restraint in the face of ideological conflict—debate related to work—at the boardroom table. Instead, create space for robust, constructive conflict.
Lack Of Commitment
Without passionate debate, team members will fall prey to artificial harmony, and that leads to the next dysfunction: lack of commitment. Team members are less willing to commit to ideas when they feel like they’re not being heard. It’s not necessary for the team to be on the same page. It is, however, necessary, for everyone to feel they are heard. Doing so allows team members to commit to the group decision, even if it doesn’t align with a dissenting team member’s idea. The act of being heard is often enough.
Without it, don’t expect employees to commit. And without commitment, ambiguity around goals and targets takes hold.
Avoidance Of Accountability
The next dysfunction is avoidance of accountability. If you’ve worked on a team, you’ve probably been there. Calling out the scary boss is, well, scary. And telling that super friendly employee who reports to you that he’s not doing his job right is also a tough conversation to have.
But hardest of all is being accountable to yourself. Lencioni recommends team leaders being held accountable in order for others to feel comfortable doing the same. A lack of accountability leads to low standards. And that’ll only hurt the team, and the company.
Inattention To Results
Because team members aren’t held accountable, they put their individual needs first, often driven by ego and status. Results get relegated to the back burner. It’s the leader’s role to bring the focus back onto results.
If you run a team, or if you’re a part of a team, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a must read. It’ll help you spot the dysfunctions holding your team back. And it’ll also show you how to alleviate them.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.