Patrick Lencioni’s 2014 book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” offers a useful fable about an executive taking over a company (Decision Tech) and her challenges creating a cohesive executive team. The novel is an easy read with recognisable characters. Everyone will relate to the scenario of a team of leaders that struggle to be effective as a leadership team. Patrick Lencioni helps us to understand why in his inimitable style.
The key insight is that developing a cohesive executive team is conceptually simple and Lencioni offers an intuitive framework which is clear and common-sense in nature. Amongst our clients we have ample evidence that teamwork (especially cross functional teamwork) is often challenging in large complex organisations and one or more of the five dysfunctions offered by Patrick Lencioni are usually the root cause. Those five pitfalls, labelled the five dysfunctions of a team, and their flip side “Five behaviours of a cohesive team” are:
Dysfunction 1: Lack of trust. Trust lies at the heart of all high performing, cohesive teams. Without trust, teamwork is all but impossible and never sustainable. A lack of trust leads to unwillingness to communicate honestly and openly, real thoughts, feelings and ideas are suppressed. Personal agendas are often hidden and virtual ‘elephants’ stalk the rooms. Building trust enables teammates to be honest about their deficiencies and shortcomings, to admit to mistakes and errors, and to ask for help when needed.
Cohesive team behaviour 1: Building high levels of trust
Build confidence that team members can be vulnerable with one another and confident that their colleagues have good intentions. This can be achieved, over time, through:
- Coach facilitated conversations designed to elicit what team members value about one another and identify development opportunities.
- Behavioural profiling to build insights into one another’s preferences and personality styles
- Experiential activity designed to break down barriers inhibiting effective communication.
- Informal opportunities to build relationships based on genuine, rather than superficial knowledge about one another
Trust in a team makes productive conflict possible because team members will readily engage in passionate, challenging and constructive debate about ideas without fear of negative consequences
Dysfunction 2: Fear of conflict. Great relationships that stand the test of time can engage in productive conflict to grow and develop. With a fear of conflicted discussion, teammates are reluctant to confront each other, hide their feelings and cannot engage in constructive conflict and debate or conflicted debate, when it happens, is destructive and erodes trust. Ideas do not get properly aired and evaluated, issues are unresolved and difficult discussion is avoided.
Cohesive team behaviour 2: Productive and well-intentioned conflict
Develop the ability and willingness to engage in positive conflicted debate. This can be achieved by:
- Plan lively and interesting meetings with clear purpose and outcomes
- Increase the confidence and willingness of all team members to contribute ideas
- Ability to deal with conflict. Develop team members understanding of, and ability to flex, their natural preferences for dealing with conflict
By engaging in productive conflict that explores everyone’s perspectives and opinions, a team can confidently make decisions knowing that all available ideas are on the table. They will then be more likely to commit and buy-in to the decision that needs to be made.
Dysfunction 3. Absence of commitment. Teams work effectively when every member clearly understands, endorses and commits to the team’s goals and decisions. Without commitment, efforts are unfocused and likely to undermine effective teamwork. Great teams make timely and sometimes difficult decisions that team members commit to. They seize opportunities and maintain momentum.
Cohesive behaviour 3: Strong commitment to team decisions and standards
The following techniques and tools can help:
- Avoid consensus decision-making. It may involve everyone but can result in a decision that everyone can live with, rather than the best decision. Effective meeting structure will help get to the best answer AND build commitment, even when people didn’t agree.
- Effective meeting processes and behaviours improve capability to hold productive meetings. An obvious start point is clear purpose, outcome, structure and timing for each agenda item.
- Use a short end of meeting wrap-up to summarise decisions so members are clear what has been agreed and why and what needs to be communicated to others.
For team members to call one another on behaviours and actions, they must have a clear and shared understanding of what is expected.
Dysfunction 4. Absence of accountability. When team members are uncomfortable holding each other to commitments and pointing out problems or deficiencies, the team’s efforts will lack focus, energy dissipates and everything unaccountably, but predictably, falls apart. Cohesive teams rely on peer to peer accountability and self-regulate their standards of behaviour.
Cohesive behaviour 4: Display individual and collective accountability
To build accountability you should do the following for your team:
- Make goals, standards and responsibilities clear. Be 100% clear about what the team is planning to achieve, why it’s important and what tasks are required to achieve it.
- Simple and regular progress reviews. Progress reviews help identify problems early. They motivate performance and forum where team members can hold each other accountable.
- Effective feedback. Many teams we meet simply are not very good at giving feedback or are uncomfortable receiving it. Properly directed and expressed, peer feedback is a source of support and encouragement.
- Offer team-based rewards. Build cohesion and common purpose by shifting rewards from individual performance to team achievement to reinforce a sense of collective accountability for team outcomes.
When team members are clear about the goal and hold themselves and peers accountable for their contributions they will be more effective at maintaining focus on collective rather than individual needs.
Dysfunction 5. Failure to focus on goals. In dysfunctional teams, members prioritise personal or departmental agendas instead of the team’s overall goal. A lack of clarity about the goal inevitably leads to efforts being unaligned and that builds organisational friction making it hard to get important things done. Effective teams focus their efforts on the collective goals of the group.
Cohesive behaviour 5: Focus on what’s best for team results
As improbable as it might seem many teams are simply not results focused. Ways to bring sharp focus on team results include:
- Clear intent. Spend time to define and communicate a statement of intent: the outcomes the team seeks and why they are important. This no-one in doubt what success looks like.
- Public commitment. To improve performance, have the members publicly commit to achieving the team’s intent.
- Engagement. To help everyone focus on the team’s goals, make the intent public and provide multiple opportunities, formal and informal, for people to discuss the intent how they contribute achieving it.
Cohesive teams have a desire to win based on clear collective outcomes and focus reward on achieving them.