Skip to main content

dysfunctional teams

I’m passing on to you something I’m going to share with our ministry collaboration team at church.  It’s from Patrick Lencioni.

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Absence of Trust

Trust is critical in building a high-performance team and lack of trust is very visible in a dysfunctional team.

The most telltale sign of lack of trust is that no one would bring up any issue/problems which will show him/her weak or vulnerable. ‘Having the guard on all the time’ is a characteristic of a team member in a dysfunctional team. I remember my experience with a leadership team; even though the project was in very bad shape, the manager in charge would always talk about great things the team was accomplishing and any uttering by other team members to the contrary was termed by the leader as ‘lack of team work’! Needless to say, there was no trust in the team.

Fear of Conflict

Fear of conflict means that conversation and feedback cannot be candid and difficult questions can’t be asked, because they can give rise to conflicts. This in turn happens because lack of trust causes people to suspect the motive of the person doing the questioning/commenting and it becomes a personal matter rather than team’s.

Lack of Commitment

Lack of commitment from the team members is a dangerous problem in a dysfunctional team.  Because of fear of conflict and lack of trust, most decisions do not get discussed enough, team members feel they have not been heard, and hence they do not buy-into the decision being made. This lack of buy-in causes the lack of commitment among team members. This in turn gives rise to situations where even though the team (or leadership team) has taken a decision but the actions of individuals in the team seem to oppose the decision. The team is deemed incompetent and ‘lost’ and loses the respect of their peers and reports.

Avoidance of Accountability

Lack of commitment and lack of thorough discussions/buy-in fosters a culture where individuals and the team shies away from being accountable for their actions, blaming all failures and problems on others in the team or to external factors (senior management and market conditions are my all-time favorites).

Since team members do not challenge each other for the fear of being misunderstood (first 2 dysfunctions), this creates a team which keeps discussing the problems and failures as if someone else caused it and remain blissfully ignorant of how dysfunctional they are. When this happens in a leadership team, problem becomes acute because there is no one else to guide and correct them, or to hold them accountable. For regular teams, this gives becomes visible in lack of results and focus.

Inattention to Results

This is by-product of rest of the dysfunctions. When there is no accountability and no commitment to decisions, results suffer, and what is more, with no one to hold anyone accountable within the team (lack of mutual accountability), no one will even discuss failures.

For an outsider listening in, it may look like a great team functioning well (no arguments, no heated debates, lots of talk of accomplishments). This is also the best way to identify a dysfunctional team; just watch the kind of discussions happening in the team over a period of time, and try to compare it with the results of this team. High-performance teams have heated debates, passionate arguments, and lots of good results; dysfunctional teams have polite conversations, ‘presentation’ of accomplishments, and very few good results to show.