The Five Dysfunctions of a Team | Is It Still Relevant Today?

Still Applicable in 2020?

Let’s say we bought a product – software or hardware – for our computer. We installed it and it didn’t work well at all.

It was so likely to fail, we didn’t trust it to operate when we needed it most. We found it clashed with other parts of our computer, failed to embed itself into your list of applications; and there was no helpdesk support to try and put things right.

We would immediately demand a refund and look elsewhere.

We Tolerate Mediocre Teams

Now replace that example with a leadership or project team similarly operating in this failing way.
We would expect a fix, an upgrade or a replacement product. Yet we tolerate mediocre teams. Teams that the 2002 book by consultant and speaker Patrick Lencioni described as Dysfunctional in his bestselling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Red front cover of book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Published in 2002

In 2002, you could argue that we were just emerging into the new millennium, with less than a decade of e-commerce and internet ubiquity,  and we weren’t readily using terms like Agile, VUCA or Disruptive Innovation.
And yet, the lessons of this book are still – perhaps even more – pertinent today than at the time of publishing.

The Five Dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of trust — unwilling to be vulnerable within the group and operating in a place we now know as psychologically safe.
  2. Fear of conflict — seeking artificial harmony over a constructive passionate debate out of fear, apathy or arrogance.
  3. Lack of commitment — faking buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity and uncertainty and a disbelief in the mission, vision, and values of any organisation.
  4. Avoidance of accountability — ignoring the responsibility of self and peers to standards which results in counterproductive behaviour and lower levels of performance, innovation and support.
  5. Inattention to results — focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success.

And yet we still experience and hear of teams in leadership, projects, or operational roles who exemplify this ‘worst-case scenario’ and appear to be unchallenged or get away with such dysfunctional behaviours.

Still Prevalent in Today’s Admired Organisations

Taking a look at some of the more admired organisations who perform well in financial and human capital terms and they appear to be a stark opposite to Lencioni’s ‘…Dysfunctions’ model. They openly talk of trust or distrust and encourage a more open way to be; including sensitive subjects like emotional fragility, pointing out mistakes and potential risks. Of feeding back to people up, down and across from you in the organisational schema. They use conflict as a creative tension and to show commitment and determination to do the right thing.

And organisations using Agile methods have seen a rise in accountability – often using open systems that show everyone’s workload, productivity, and progress. And are active in goal setting –  becoming a daily, micro-level behaviour to keep the focus on progress through iterating gains.

So, yes, this book and its stories ARE still relevant.

Because before a company can adapt to being more agile, more autonomous, and superbly aligned, it needs to overcome the five dysfunctions of a team at ALL levels. Especially with those who take the most crucial decisions.
Working through this model helps arrest complacent, ignorant or neglectful approaches to teamwork. Furthermore, a revisit to this work should help many teams optimise, actualise and achieve their intended purpose.

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