Book Review: ‘5 Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni

‘And Guys? You’re Going to Really Need to Work Together on This One.’

How many of us have been told that during a meeting or at the start of a particular product/service launch? The importance of teamwork is often talked about in the workplace. If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard countless reminders about the need to work together. The need to share the load, help each other out, and the tiresome fact that there is no ‘i’ in team.
I get it. Teamwork is important. Thanks.

But the reality of being part of a team for many people is somewhat disappointing. High hopes are soon dashed.  Disputes about who isn’t pulling their weight and/or who isn’t responding to emails become commonplace. Our disagreements – sometimes over trivial issues – result in avoidance, ignorance and other forms of communication breakdown. In addition, the thought of team away days that consist of rope courses and cookery classes led by overenthusiastic trainers cause more eye-rolling than any politicians interview or X-Factor audition tape.

We know what teamwork should do. But it doesn’t. So why bother?

Enter Patrick Lencioni.

5 Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Lencioni has chosen a somewhat unorthodox approach in 5 Dysfunctions of a Team to tackle this subject by spending the majority of his book telling a fictitious story. His fly-on-the-wall description of Kathryn Peterson’s dysfunctional executive team and the meetings they share together is enjoyable and frighteningly familiar. On numerous occasions, I found myself remembering individuals that I have worked with throughout my life and saying aloud, ‘That’s what they used to do!’ And, equally often, I felt a subtle poke in the ribs that highlighted my own inadequacies and areas for improvement.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There is a management theory on display here and we are encouraged to follow it. But, it’s far from a step-by-step, painting by numbers approach.

By storytelling, Lencioni points out particular aspects of personality that often prove to be the stumbling blocks to healthy teams. His theory highlights five aspects (hence the title of the book) that are essential for any team to strengthen and progress. And there’s nothing new about them. The topics of trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results are certainly heavily discussed and referenced by many teams in successful businesses. But this is not Lencioni’s crux. His concern is whether or not such topics have been completely and appropriately understood. Moreover, that they are then effectively put into practice.

The Narrative: Overview

Early on, the author introduces us to the central characters of the story – the members of the executive team within the mythical DecisionTech, Inc. based in California. Each individual has their strengths and weaknesses. These, in turn, contribute to the success of the company and its dysfunctional culture. They range from the analytical Martin, the company’s chief technologist, to the temperamental Mikey, Head of Marketing. Lencioni sits us, the reader, in the corner of the room during staff meetings and team off-sites. Helping to ensure we are fully exposed to the struggles and tensions that have led DecisionTech to its current position while we wait to see how, when and why new CEO Kathryn will strike.

The Reality of Teamwork…

For me, the beauty of this book is in the author’s refusal to speak about what needs to be done. Something so many other management books are quick to do. Instead, the focus is on how we need to be. Learning to trust is so much more than pairing up and taking it in turns to fall back into your partner’s arms. We know conflict is inevitable but that doesn’t stop us from avoiding it. When you work in a result-driven environment, it is difficult to not to feed ego and self-centeredness first. In short, teams work when they can be brutally honest without being overly sensitive (bringing to mind Kim Scott’s Radical Candor).
Yes, it is easier said than done.

However, make no mistake, what Lencioni recommends is far from unachievable. Uncomfortable? Possibly. Challenging? Certainly. Beneficial? Without a doubt. There is more than a fluffy narrative that whispers solutions. At times, it is direct and uncompromising, highlighting the need to address issues rather than hide or run from them. Upon completing the story, albeit, in a slightly hurried fashion, the tail-end of the book offers a string of suggestions as to how any team might seek to begin implementing the advice recommended.

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Final Thoughts on 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

This is not the golden goose. It is not the one book that every team leader needs to read. It may not have the solution you, or someone you know needs to improve their dysfunctional team. But it is worth exploring and its principles embracing. As someone who works in Learning and Development with leaders and managers, ‘The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team’ has provided a delightful foundation for exploring effectiveness within teams in a new way.

Favourite Quote:

‘Teams that trust each other are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue around issues and decisions that are key to the organization’s success. They do not hesitate to disagree with, challenge, and question one another, all in the spirit of finding the best answers, discovering the truth, and making great decisions.’

Front cover of 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

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